Frustrated by ongoing violence and uneven development, Afghans have grown sharply more critical of U.S. efforts in their country — and in the beleaguered southwest, support for the Taliban, ousted from power six years ago, is on the rise.
Overall, 42 percent of Afghans rate U.S. efforts in Afghanistan positively, down steeply from 68 percent in 2005, and 57 percent last year. For the first time, this national ABC News/BBC/ARD survey finds that more than half of Afghans disapprove of U.S. efforts.
Afghans' confidence in the ability of U.S. and NATO forces to provide security also has dropped, from two-thirds a year ago to just over half now. And there's been a similar, 15-point decline in the number who say people in their area support these forces.
The problem is not the United States and NATO's alone: Ratings of the strength and effectiveness of the Afghan police, and their level of local support, also have declined. Meanwhile 42 percent of Afghans say the Taliban has gained strength in the past year -- far more than say it's weakened.
Many such views are worse in the Southwest, the main Taliban hotspot. There, nearly two-thirds rate U.S. efforts negatively, confidence in local authorities is down sharply -- and opposition to the Taliban has weakened substantially. Twenty-three percent in the Southwest say people in their area support the Taliban, triple what it was last year, and compared to just 8 percent nationally.
Further, a year ago 81 percent in the Southwest said the Taliban had "no significant support at all" in their area; now just 52 percent say so. Preference in the Southwest for the current government rather than the Taliban has declined from 90 percent then to 77 percent now. And in the single biggest change, just 45 percent in the Southwest now support the presence of NATO forces there -- dramatically down from 83 percent a year ago. Civilian casualties blamed on these forces is a prime complaint.
POSITIVES -- Not all trends are negative; many Afghans in this national poll express forbearance, and half retain optimism, in the face of the country's difficulties. And criticism of the United States is largely focused on its performance, not its presence. Seventy-one percent of Afghans support the United States' presence in Afghanistan -- and where the U.S. is seen as strongest, its approval ratings peak.
Despite some deterioration, most Afghans continue to see the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban as a good thing -- 76 percent, although down from 88 percent last year -- and to support U.S. forces remaining in their country. And 65 percent of Afghans still view the United States favorably overall, down from a peak of 83 percent in 2005 but still remarkable compared with America's image in most other Muslim countries.
This survey, the third in Afghanistan sponsored by ABC News and other media partners, marks the anniversary of the fall of the Taliban six years ago this week. It was conducted via face-to-face interviews with 1,377 Afghans in each of the country's 34 provinces.