Afghanistan Troop Boost Looks Unpopular

Sep 15, 2009 2:37pm

Most Americans are unlikely to cotton to Admiral Mike Mullen’s testimony today that more U.S. troops probably will be needed in Afghanistan: Only about a quarter of the public favors increasing the levels of U.S. forces there, and 51 percent continue to see the war as not worth fighting.

The public now splits about evenly, moreover, on whether or not the war in Afghanistan is essential for the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism to be a success, its basic rationale. Forty-eight percent say yes, 45 percent no – a closer division on this question than in polls the past year.

Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces.”

Just 26 percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll favor increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan; 42 percent favor decreasing the deployment, with the rest saying it should remain as is. That’s essentially unchanged from a month ago.

Support for sending more forces was higher, albeit not high, in January – 34 percent.

In Afghanistan itself, in an ABC/BBC/ARD poll last January, just 18 percent of Afghans supported increasing the number of U.S. and NATO forces in their country, a view linked both to criticism of the performance of those forces and concern over civilian casualties.

In the United States, polling from early 2007 through this July found anywhere from 50 to 56 percent of Americans saying the war in Afghanistan was “worth fighting” – hardly broad support, but more than half in all but one reading, and far better than the long-disenchanted views on the Iraq war. Last month, though, for the first time fewer than half, 47 percent, said the war was worth fighting, and it’s remained there, 46 percent, in this latest poll.

Resistance peaks within Obama's own party. Fifty-six percent of Democrats say the number of troops should be decreased, and just 17 percent favor an increase. Boosting combat troop levels has been opposed by party leaders including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Armed Services Committee chairman; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal.

Support for sending more forces rises among Republicans, to 39 percent, still well short of a majority. Just two in 10 Republicans, however, would reduce the deployment.

There are other sharp partisan differences: Republicans are twice as apt as Democrats to say the United States must win in Afghanistan if it’s to defeat terrorism more broadly, 66 percent to 33 percent. And Republicans are nearly twice as apt to call the war worth fighting.

Among other groups, women are 10 points less likely than men to call the war worth fighting, 13 points less likely to say it’s necessary to defeat terrorism and 19 points less apt to favor increasing the number of U.S. forces there. 

Authorities say 200 U.S. forces have been killed in Afghanistan this year, 51 in August – both the highest yearly and monthly totals since combat began in 2001.

9/16 addendum: Wrapping up, here are a few other data snippets from this poll:

Despite the public’s concerns about Afghanistan, Obama’s got a 55 percent approval rating for handling the situation there; Democrats are going easy on him (65 percent approval) because he’s their guy, and Republicans are going relatively easy on him (51 percent approval, far higher than on other issues) because they’re so much more apt to support the war.

Nonetheless Obama’s rating on Afghanistan is down from a peak of 63 percent in April. What’s interesting is that it’s fallen by 14 points among Democrats and independents – but gained 11 among Republicans.

The president has a similar 57 percent approval rating in trust to handle international affairs (down 10 points from his peak in April), and 55 percent in trust to handle the threat of terrorism. He leads the Republicans in Congress in trust to handle terrorism by 10 points, 49-39 percent, down from a 21-point advantage in June.

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