Poll: Support for war in Afghanistan hits all-time low

An Afghan Local Police (ALP) officer carries his weapon as he walks to meet a visiting military commander near Baghlan in this March 27, 2012 file photo. CBS News

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CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Two weeks after an American soldier in Afghanistan allegedly went on a rampage killing 17 Afghan civilians, American confidence in the war is at an all-time low, a new CBS News/New York Times poll suggests.

According to the survey, conducted among 986 adults from March 21-25, just 23 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting in Afghanistan. That percentage - the lowest ever recorded by CBS News and the New York Times in this survey - is down from 36 percent in November 2011. Sixty-nine percent of Americans said the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan, the highest percentage of respondents who have said so since CBS News/New York Times started asking that question in 2009.

Only one in four Americans believes the war is going well for the U.S., the poll indicates, down from 48 percent last November. This percentage comes close to the question's all-time low, at 23 percent in November 2009, shortly before President Obama announced his plan for a surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan.

In recent months, a string of controversies involving U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan may have cast negative light on the ongoing conflict there: On March 11, an American Staff Sgt., Robert Bales, is accused of leaving his base in Southern Afghanistan to kill 17 Afghan civilians in what is being charged as a premeditated attack. In February, meanwhile, five U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan were foundto have inadvertently burned discarded copies of the Koran, which sparked days of protests there and resulted in several deaths of U.S. troops and others.

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Read the complete poll (PDF)

The CBS News/New York Times survey finds that just 27 percent of Americans think the war there has been mostly a success for the U.S., while 59 percent say it has not been. In September of 2011, 39 percent felt the war had mostly been a success for the United States.

More Republicans than Democrats seem to have positive feelings about the war in Afghanistan. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans said they thought the war had been mostly a success for the U.S., and 32 percent think the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting there.

Among Democrats and independents, positivity on those questions is lower: Of Democrats, 24 percent said they thought the war had been mostly a success and 18 percent think the U.S. is doing the right thing. Twenty-three percent of independents thought the war had been mostly a success, and 22 percent said the U.S. is doing the right thing.

Last June, President Obama announced that he would be bringing 10,000 troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, with another 23,000 leaving no later than September 2012. By 2014, he said, the mission's transition "from combat to support" would be complete.

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According to the CBS News/New York Times survey, many Americans would like to get troops home sooner. Forty-seven percent of Americans said they would like to see the timetable for the departure of U.S. troops moved up. Thirty-three percent think the schedule for withdrawal should remain as is, and 17 percent think the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes.

Most Americans (55 percent) say they do not have a clear idea of what the U.S. is fighting for in Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead, while 42 percent say the opposite. In September of 2011, 50 percent of Americans said they had a clear picture of U.S. goals in Afghanistan and 43 percent said they did not.

Among those who said they did have a clear idea of what the U.S. is fighting for in Afghanistan, 35 percent cited combating terrorism, 16 percent said stabilizing the country, 12 percent pointed to preventing the Taliban from taking control, and 9 percent said oil and gas.

In a interview that aired Monday on "CBS This Morning," General John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, argued that the mission in Afghanistan remains "essential" and that Al Qaeda "remains a virulent organization" there.

"We don't want the Taliban to put down roots, or the al Qaeda to put down roots in Afghanistan that can facilitate Afghanistan becoming - once again - a launching pad for international terrorism," Allen told CBS' Charlie Rose.

He said that even in light of the recent tragedy, the U.S.-Afghan relationship was "not broken."

"I worry that the complications from these recent events can distract us from the larger strategic imperative of this campaign," Allen said. "We have seen that while the relationship may have been bruised in these events, the relationship has not been broken."


This poll was conducted by telephone from March 21-25, 2012 among 986 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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