Poll: Fewer back war in Afghanistan

(MILITARY TIMES)   WASHINGTON — American support for the war in Afghanistan has ebbed to new a low, as attacks on U.S. troops and their allies have hit record levels and commanders are pleading for reinforcements, a USA Today/Gallup Poll shows.

In the weekend poll, 42 percent of respondents said the U.S. made “a mistake” in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30 percent in February. That’s the highest mark since the poll first asked the question in November 2001, a month after the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks.

In January 2002, only 6 percent of respondents called the war “a mistake.” Those who said the war is going well dropped to 38 percent in the latest poll, the lowest percentage since that question was asked in September 2006.

President Barack Obama is sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but he has ordered a thorough review of the strategy before deciding to send additional forces beyond that. Commanders requested 30,000 reinforcements.

Attacks with improvised explosive devices killed 32 coalition troops in the first two months of 2009, triple the number for the same period in 2008. Last year, there were 3,276 IED attacks, a 45 percent increase over 2007, and a record for the war.

Insurgents killed four U.S. troops Sunday in Afghanistan with a roadside bomb.

John Nagl, a retired Army officer and president of the Center for a New American Security, said pessimism about Afghanistan stems from seven years of fighting and security trends continuing to point downward. Nagl said he agrees with the strategy of Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO commander there, to use additional U.S. troops to improve security for the Afghan people, support their government and build their economy. Stabilizing neighboring Pakistan will also be necessary to counter the threat from Islamic extremists, he said.

“This is going to be really hard,” Nagl said. “That said, the stakes are enormously high.”

The poll found more optimism about the war in Iraq, where security gains have dramatically reduced U.S. casualties. Since 2007, the U.S. strategy has focused on protecting Iraqi citizens and helped rein in violence. In 2008, 314 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq compared with 904 in 2007.

A majority, 51 percent, said the war is going well there, about the same as in September 2008. Those saying it is going badly declined to 43 percent from 47 percent in September and a peak of 71 percent in January 2007.

The results are based on interviews with about 1,000 people. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.


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