The United States, its NATO allies and the government of Hamid Karzai are losing not just ground in Afghanistan – but also the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
A new national public opinion poll in Afghanistan by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV finds that performance ratings and support levels for the Kabul government and its Western allies have plummeted from their peaks, particularly in the past year. Widespread strife, a resurgent Taliban, struggling development, soaring corruption and broad complaints about food, fuel, power and prices all play a role.
Click here for PDF of analysis with charts and full questionnaire.
Click here for charts on the results.
Click here for photos from the field.
The effects are remarkable: With expectations for security and economic development unmet, the number of Afghans who say their country is headed in the right direction has dived from 77 percent in 2005 to 40 percent now – fewer than half for the first time in these polls.
In 2005, moreover, 83 percent of Afghans expressed a favorable opinion of the United States – unheard of in a Muslim nation. Today just 47 percent still hold that view, down 36 points, accelerating with an 18-point drop in U.S. favorability this year alone. For the first time slightly more Afghans now see the United States unfavorably than favorably.
The number who say the United States has performed well in Afghanistan has been more than halved, from 68 percent in 2005 to 32 percent now. Ratings of NATO/ISAF forces are no better. Just 37 percent of Afghans now say most people in their area support Western forces; it was 67 percent in 2006. And 25 percent now say attacks on U.S. or NATO/ISAF forces can be justified, double the level, 13 percent, in 2006.
Nor does the election of Barack Obama hold much promise in the eyes of the Afghan public: While two in 10 think he'll make things better for their country, nearly as many think he'll make things worse. The rest either expect no change, or are waiting to see.
This survey is ABC's fourth in Afghanistan since 2005, part of its ongoing "Where Things Stand" series there and in Iraq. It was conducted in late December and early January via face-to-face interviews with a random national sample of 1,534 Afghan adults in all 34 of the country's provinces, with field work by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research in Kabul.
The survey comes at a critical time for the conflict in Afghanistan, as the United States begins nearly to double its deployment of troops there, adding as many as 30,000 to the 32,000 already present, and, under the new Obama administration, to rethink its troubled strategy. (Said Vice President Joe Biden: "We've inherited a real mess.")
While Afghans likely will welcome a new strategy, they're far cooler on new troops: Contrary to Washington's plans, just 18 percent say the number of U.S. and NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan should be increased. Far more, 44 percent, want the opposite – a decrease in the level of these forces. (ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Force, the U.N.-mandated, NATO-led multinational force in Afghanistan.)