The Taliban, for its part, remains vastly unpopular; in addition to taking more blame for the country's strife it's increasingly seen as Afghanistan's greatest threat – 69 percent now say so, a new high. Ninety percent prefer the current government to the Taliban (up 8 points) and there's been a 16-point jump in belief the Taliban's grown weaker during the past year – obviously another of McChrystal's goals. This may stem in part from Pakistan's tougher approach, with a 14-point decline in suspicions it's harboring the Taliban.
Still, whatever their animosity toward the group, 65 percent favor a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, unchanged from last year. And this spikes to nearly three-quarters in the South and 91 percent in the East, the Taliban's strongest areas. One reason: Far fewer in the South and East believe the government and its allies will defeat the Taliban militarily – 18 and 24 percent think so, respectively, vs. 49 percent in the rest of the country.
This poll, the fifth in Afghanistan by ABC News and media partners since 2005, was conducted via face-to-face interviews with 1,534 randomly selected Afghans in all 34 of the country's provinces from Dec. 11-23, with field work by ACSOR, the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research, in Kabul. See separate report for methodological details.
U.S./NATO EFFORTS – The main changes in views of the United States and NATO reflect diminished blame for their role in violence overall, and to a lesser extent for civilian casualties in particular – the latter a highly sensitive issue. McChrystal has focused on reducing major incidents with civilian casualties, winning praise from Afghan leaders, and the United Nations has reported that most such casualties are caused by the Taliban.
Overall, 42 percent of Afghans now blame the country's violence on the Taliban, up sharply from 27 percent a year ago. Fewer, 17 percent, blame the United States, NATO or the Afghan government or army, well down from 36 percent. While one in six still blames Kabul or the West for the country's strife – plenty to fuel hostility – the shift away is a large one.
Direct blame on the United States and NATO for civilian casualties also has eased, albeit less so. Afghans now divide about evenly, 36-35 percent, on whom they blame more for civilian casualties in air strikes – U.S. and NATO forces, for poor targeting, or anti-government fighters, for being among civilians. (The rest blame both sides equally.) Many do still blame the Western forces; nonetheless, this has eased from 41-28 percent a year ago. While hardly good now, it's better than it's been.
Most Afghans also continue to call allied air strikes unacceptable – 66 percent, but down from 77 percent last year.
There is one conflicting result; more Afghans also say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province. It's another measure the allies want to move their way if their basic support is to rise.