There's a similar pattern in support for retribution against U.S. or NATO/ISAF forces. While 25 percent of all Afghans now say violence against such forces can be justified, that jumps to 44 percent among those who report air strikes or shelling in their area. It's a similar 45 percent in the South and East, where the fighting has been most intense.
By contrast, support for attacks on Western forces drops to 18 percent where no bombing or shelling has occurred, and to 15 percent in the provinces where conflict has been lowest, roughly the northern half of the country.
VIOLENCE LEVELS – All told, one in six Afghans report coalition bombardment in their area within the past year, but with huge variation; it soars to nearly half in the Southwest and nearly four in 10 in the East.
Among other violence, a quarter report car bombs or suicide attacks in their area in the past year; three in 10, kidnappings for ransom. Thirty-eight percent report civilian casualties in the past year, attributed about equally either to U.S./NATO/ISAF or to anti-government forces, and somewhat less so to Afghan government forces.
Given these and their many other challenges, the number of Afghans who expect their lives to improve in the year ahead has dropped from a peak of 67 percent in 2005 to 51 percent today. And just under half, 47 percent, expect a better life for their children, hardly a ringing endorsement of the country's prospects.
TALIBAN – The resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public's alarm: Fifty-eight percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country, measured against local warlords, drug traffickers or the U.S. or Afghan governments. And 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year, well more than the 24 percent who think the movement has weakened.
Notably more in the South – 55 percent – say the Taliban have grown stronger. And in Helmand province, the heart of the opium trade that's said to finance the group, 63 percent say the Taliban have gained strength. In the more peaceful North, the opposite: Slightly more there say the Taliban have weakened.
The Taliban are far from achieving popular support – across a range of measures the group still is shunned by large majorities of Afghans. But 22 percent say it has at least some support in their area, and this soars to 57 percent in the Southwest overall, including 64 percent in its home base, Kandahar. That's up sharply from 44 percent in the Southwest last year, and up from 41 percent in Kandahar.
There's also evidence the Taliban have made some progress rebranding themselves. Twenty-four percent of Afghans say it's their impression the Taliban "have changed and become more moderate" – far from a majority, but one in four. And that view spikes in some provinces – most notably, to 58 percent in Wardak and 53 percent in Nangarhar, bordering Kabul to the west and east, respectively. People who see the Taliban as more moderate are 20 points more likely to favor negotiating with the movement, and less supportive of the U.S. and NATO/ISAF presence in Afghanistan.
Another result indicates a possible change in tactics. Twenty-six percent of Afghans report bombings by the Taliban in their area; that's down from 43 percent in 2006. Thirty-two percent report murders by the Taliban – down by 10 points from 2006 (though level with 2007).