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Afghan war poll adds to Obama's headache

Last updated on: March 12, 2012 11:47 IST

Afghan war poll adds to Obama's headache

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Rediff News Desk

Sixty per cent Americans say that the war in Afghanistan has not been not worth fighting and just 30 per cent believe that the Afghan public supports the US mission in their country -- marking the sour state of attitudes on the war even before the shooting rampage allegedly by a US soldier this weekend.

Indeed a majority in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 per cent, say the United States should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan without completing its current effort to train Afghan forces to become self-sufficient

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Image: President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai from his vehicle to express his shock and sadness over the killing of Afghan civilians
Photographs: Pete Souza/White House Photos

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The survey was completed Saturday. Early Sunday a US service member allegedly left his base in Kandahar and shot and killed more than a dozen civilians in two nearby villages, an incident certain to raise tensions already inflamed by the US military's inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at Bagram Air Base last month.

That incident sparked violent protests, including a series of incidents in which Afghan soldiers have turned their guns on US forces.

American officials have said that the action (burning of the Quran) was a mistake and offered profuse apologies, but some Afghans, including lawmakers and senior clerics, nonetheless called for harsh punishment of those involved.

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Image: A US soldier fires at simulated enemy combatants during a field exercise
Photographs: Spc Marcus Fichtl/US Army/Released

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Afghan war poll adds to Obama's headache

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Sunday's shootings took place outside Kandahar city, in a pair of adjoining villages, Alkozai and Balandi.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, military officials told the Chicago Tribune that it was believed that the assailant had suffered a mental breakdown. But among Afghans, psychiatric disorders are rarely spoken of, and mental illness is not generally considered a mitigating factor in a violent crime.

The shooting occurred just two days after the administration hailed progress on the long-delayed strategic-partnership agreement it is trying to negotiate with Karzai, a key part of US military plans to retain a counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of coalition combat troops at the end of 2014.

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Image: An Afghan National Army commando, right, conducts a key leader engagement with an Afghan village elder during a mission in search of insurgent weapons caches in Alahsang village, Wardak province, Afghanistan
Photographs: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sebastion McCormack/US Army/Released

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Afghan war poll adds to Obama's headache

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After many months of negotiations and demands from Karzai, one of two outstanding issues were settled on Friday, an agreement on the transfer of detention facilities to Afghan control.

US officials were optimistic that the other -- whether US Special Operations troops can continue conducting night raids in a bid to surprise and arrest suspected militants in their homes -- would be settled by a NATO summit in May, when the alliance wants to draw up final withdrawal plans.

"This makes the absolute worst case for us and our continuing involvement" in Afghanistan, the administration official told the Washington Post. "It's just awful."

Against that backdrop, the number of Americans who say the war has not been worth fighting, at 60 per cent, is up by 6 points from its level last June to just 4 points from its peak, 64 per cent, a year ago.

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Image: A US Marine hands with an Afghan child while on a walking tour of the bazaar in Marjeh, Afghanistan
Photographs: Erin A Kirk-Cuomo/DoD

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Afghan war poll adds to Obama's headache

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The intensity of sentiment is deeply negative. Forty-four per cent feel "strongly" that the war has not been worth fighting. Just 17 per cent, by contrast, support it strongly.

Criticism of the war had been assuaged to some extent last year by the drawdown of US forces, a step backed by 78 per cent of Americans in an ABC/Post poll last month.

Taking another tack, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, asked if the United States should keep its forces in Afghanistan until it has trained the Afghan Army to be self-sufficient, or withdraw even without accomplishing that task.

Given those competing interests, 43 per cent favour completing the training effort; 54 per cent, as noted, opt for withdrawal regardless. While the war lacks majority support on the basis of a cost-benefit evaluation for the United States, support further is eroded by the fact that 55 per cent of Americans think most Afghans themselves do not support U.S. efforts in their country, and an additional 15 percent are unsure.

Just three in 10 think the US mission enjoys majority support.

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Image: US Marine Corps Cpl William Cox, an armorer assigned to the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest, holds an M4 carbine while providing security as an MV-22 Osprey takes off in support of Enduring Freedom in Zaranj, Nimroz province
Photographs: Cpl Bryan Nygaard/US Marine Corps

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Partisanship informs views on the war. Democrats and political independents see it as not worth fighting by broad 40- and 31-point margins, respectively, while Republicans divide evenly on the question.

Similarly, liberals and moderates are critical of the war by 49- and 27-point margins; conservatives share this view much more narrowly, by 9 points. And while nearly six in 10 Republicans favour staying until Afghan forces are trained, that drops to 37 per cent among others.

A renewal of critical views could have political ramifications for Barack Obama's re-election effort. Discontent with the war in Iraq, at similar levels as views on Afghanistan today, badly damaged George W Bush's presidency, marking the risk for Obama, especially in an election year.

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Image: Afghan National Army soldier Taza Khan hands a bag of chips to a local boy, injured by an improvised explosive device, while patrolling with US Marines
Photographs: US DoD

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