Poll: Brits Say Afghan War "Unwinnable"

(AP Photo/Sang Tan)
A majority of the British public believes the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan cannot be won and British troops should be withdrawn immediately, according to a poll commissioned by The Independent.

At left: British soldiers from the Welsh Guards carry the coffin of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe into The Guards Chapel in the Wellington Barracks in London for a funeral service, July 16, 2009. Thorneloe was killed in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

According to the poll, carried out by ComRes for the newspaper, 58 percent of Britons say the war is "unwinnable," with 31 percent believing victory can be achieved.

Fifty-two percent of those asked said all British forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately.

The results reflect a public wearied by near-daily headlines of troop deaths, scandals over how well those troops have been equipped for battle, and a prime minister whose credibility has shrunken dramatically during the past several months.

On Monday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has been hit hard by party losses in several key local elections this summer, declared a British military operation to clear Taliban from southern Afghanistan a success.

Brown paid tribute to the 191 British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, acknowledging the "tragic human cost" of the war, but insisted the country's loss was not in vain. "What we have actually done is make land secure for about 100,000 people" in Helmand province, Brown argued.

One of the greatest margins for responses to a question in The Independent's poll occurred when the 1,008 telephone participants were asked whether they believed the Taliban could be defeated militarily. Almost two thirds said they could not.

It would seem that British, and possibly Afghan leaders, are starting to agree with that assessment.

Several of Brown's cabinet members have backed the idea of talking to and trying to win over more moderate members of the extremist Islamic militias in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Afghan leaders needed "grassroots initiatives" to provide former Taliban militants a way "to return to their villages and go back to farming the land or a role for some of them within the legitimate Afghan security forces."

Meanwhile, in a move which could signal a shift in the Afghan's strategy, President Hamid Karzai's government announced a deal Monday with Taliban militants in the remote Badghis region. Under the agreement, Afghan troops will not go after militants in the region if they refrain from attacks on politicians or polling places ahead of next months elections.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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