POLL: Afghans’ Criticism of U.S. Efforts Rises; In the Southwest, Taliban Support Grows

CHALLENGES -- The results find a range of challenges: a resurgent Taliban, associated violence, still-deep economic difficulties and very different experiences across regions. Attitudes are far more negative in high-conflict areas, particularly the Southwest provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, but also in western Herat and other areas that have seen Taliban attacks. Views are far more positive in the more peaceful North.

Regardless of regional differences, violence is widespread. Thirty-seven percent of Afghans say car bombings or suicide attacks have occurred in their area, as many report civilians hurt or killed by Taliban or al Qaeda fighters and 34 percent report civilian casualties caused by U.S. or NATO forces. A quarter say such casualties have occurred within the past year.

These numbers spike in the embattled Southwest, where 60 percent report civilians killed or injured by U.S. or NATO forces, 55 percent report bombing or shelling by such forces, and as many, 55 percent, report civilian casualties at the hands of the Taliban, al Qaeda or foreign jihadi fighters. Reports of such violence are vastly lower in the North and Northeast.

SECURE/REBUILD -- The survey's results underscore the critical role of a strong presence, the provision of security and effective reconstruction in the country -- factors that may ultimately lead to success or failure in Afghanistan. Positive impressions of each of these are associated with positive views of the country's direction, its government and the U.S. and allied role there.

Overall, 63 percent of Afghans say reconstruction in their area has been effective (although that includes far fewer, 15 percent, who call it "very" effective). The contrast with attitudes in Iraq is remarkable; there just 23 percent call reconstruction effective.

It matters: Among Afghans who see reconstruction as very effective, 67 percent say their country's headed in the right direction overall; among those who say it's been ineffective, that drops to 40 percent. People who say reconstruction is going well, similarly, are 24 points more apt to rate the Afghan government positively and 24 points more apt to hold a favorable opinion of the United States.

The provision of security offers a similar payback: Positive ratings for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan are nearly twice as high among Afghans who say their local security is "very good" as among those who say it's bad. And the United States gets far better ratings from Afghans who say it has a "strong presence" in their area (73 percent positive), compared with those who say it has a less strong presence (52 percent positive) or a weak presence if any (among whom just 30 percent rate U.S. efforts positively).

Indeed, among Afghans who report U.S. or allied forces in their own area, 67 percent say those forces have done a good job.

All this means that winning support in the Afghan countryside requires being there -- a problem, in that just 50 percent of Afghans say U.S. or NATO forces have a strong presence in their area, down from 57 percent last year. Twice as many say such forces have no local presence at all as say they have a "very strong" presence. (There are about 26,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, compared with 162,000 in Iraq.)

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