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Afghanistan War: Public opinion turns sharply against US forces

Analysis: New poll says US has all but lost battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

There is, of course, some doubt as to the validity of any public opinion surveys in a country with a largely uneducated and unsophisticated population, suspicious of strangers and unwilling to share personal information for fear of possible consequences.

But to the extent that ACSOR’s data is deemed reliable, it paints a fairly depressing picture for the international community hoping to gain public support in their struggle with a surprisingly resilient insurgency.

Fewer than half of respondents — 49 percent — support the U.S. troop surge that added 30,000 pairs of boots on the ground over the past year. The same number opposed the surge.

More troops almost always means more violence; 39 percent of respondents said that civilian casualties had increased over the past 12 months; 30 percent thought they had decreased, while 31 percent said there had been no change.

In fact, civilian casualties are up sharply, according to a United Nations report released in August. And the poll shows that Afghans primarily blame the international forces, rather than the Taliban, when innocent people are caught in the crossfire.

Of those polled, 35 percent said that U.S. and NATO troops bore responsibility, 32 percent blamed the “anti-government forces,” and an equal number assigned blame to both.

As the recent WikiLeaks revelations have shown, Karzai is not the U.S. government’s favorite international partner. He is seen as weak, unpredictable, often paranoid and incapable of effective governance, according to the leaked cables.

None of that holds sway with the Afghan people, though, 82 percent of whom judged Karzai favorably. Only 62 percent gave his government as a whole such high marks, however.

Perhaps most striking is the sense of lost opportunity revealed in the poll. While the vast majority of Afghans — 74 percent — still support the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, they are now convinced that they would be better off alone.

This, according to Western observers, is part and parcel of Afghan psychology.

“They just do not want us here,” said one foreign diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Western troops, when they came here [in 2001] said ‘the Soviets were invaders, we are liberators. But for Afghans it is all the same — we are all ‘foreigners.’ They will fight anyone who comes here.”