Despite seven years of fighting, the lives of more than 600 U.S. servicemen and women, and billions of dollars in aid, Afghan opinions of the United States and their own government have dramatically deteriorated, according to the latest ABC News polling.
In 2005, with liberation from the Taliban still fresh, 83 percent of Afghans had a favorable view of the United States. Today, with widespread violence and staggeringly slow redevelopment, it has plunged to 47 percent.
Asked whether their country is moving in the right direction, only 40 percent say yes, compared to 77 percent four years ago.
The results are from an exclusive national survey produced by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV. Pollsters interviewed more than 1,500 Afghans in all 34 of the country's provinces.
From the back alleys of Kandahar to the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the streets of Kabul, Afghan pollsters have seen profound pessimism across the country.
In interview after interview, the Afghan population expressed little hope for the future, coupled with rising fears for their immediate safety.
Lailoma Karimi, 35, lives in a primitive but spotless home in Kabul with her husband and three children. She has no access to clean drinking water, only firewood for heat and limited electricity -- 55 percent of Afghans have none. But her biggest concern is security.
"From the time I was a little kid the fighting [was] going on, and it is going on till now," she said through a translator. She fled to Iran because of the security, but says that now that she's back, the situation is Kabul is acceptable, but outside the city, "it's gotten worse."
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"We have never seen a peaceful day; we are worried about our kids' future, what will happen to them because there is no security at all." Karimi said children stay home from school because of the situation.
It is no wonder there is growing concern. Even though the United States has been in Afghanistan for more than seven years, this past year has been the most dangerous since 2001.
Attacks Are Up More Than 40 Percent
Attacks are up more than 40 percent in some areas, while suicide bombings and roadside bombs are up 26 percent. The Taliban is moving ever closer to Afghanistan's capital, and a U.S. brigade has just arrived to try to stop them.
"We need to improve the security situation in Afghanistan in a very real way, and we also need to improve the perception of security in the minds of the Afghan people," U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Milley told ABC News. "No question about it, that is clearly their number one priority in their minds."
Milley said the deterioration of security in the country -- perceived or not -- makes for a "tough situation."
"The enemy has clearly bounced back a little bit" since international forces ramped up their presence in the region, he said. "On the other hand, the Afghan army has improved a lot since then; the Afghan police, although not as good as the Afghan army, they've improved as well. And international forces have increased."
Milley added that even though "there is without question a rise in violence over the last couple of years," additional combat power, improvements in Afghan security personnel and increased operational activity, "the security situation should improve."
But the poll shows that people have little faith in U.S. forces anymore.
Just 37 percent of Afghans now say people support U.S. and allied forces, down from 67 percent in 2006.
There are of course reminders of military failures all over Afghanistan. An old, burned out Soviet tank high above Kabul is perhaps the starkest example.
That might be why Afghans are overwhelmingly skeptical of a proposal to increase U.S. troops in the country by 17,000, a move that the Pentagon has on the table as President Obama considers his strategy for the region.
Only 18 percent of those polled support a greater U.S. presence.
"They think with [the] presence of [the] international community in Afghanistan, the security is getting worse day by day," said pollster Jameel al-Rahmany, who helped ABC News conduct the survey. "They think even with the presence of more troops coming to Afghanistan, they wouldn't be able to establish security in Afghanistan."
Hope and Change with U.S. and Obama
In fact, the poll shows that because hundreds of civilians have been killed during U.S. and NATO combat operations with insurgents, more Afghans now blame the violence here on the United States than on the Taliban, even though al-Rahmany says that in the past Afghans were "optimists" because of the U.S. presence.
But it's the international community that also represents the most hope for an improved situation and an improved economy, he said. "[T]hey are still asking the international community and the government of Afghanistan to establish security, providing good opportunity for people to work in different fields, and to live under safer circumstances," al-Rahmany added.
Seventy percent of those polled say there are few if any jobs where they live. Nasir Faizi, a 22-year-old who is unemployed and living with his parents, remains hopeful that President Obama will bring positive change to Afghanistan.
"I hope since it's a new government, that there will be new changes," he said. "I am optimistic that there will be some good changes."
Two in 10 of the respondents agree, but almost as many think things could get worse during Obama's tenure -- a fact that makes an already daunting foreign policy challenge for the United States even greater.