Public's Views of Afghanistan War Have Turned Sour

(CBS/AP)
As the United States marks eight years of military engagement in Afghanistan, a majority of Americans think that war is going badly for the U.S. and they are divided on whether the United States is doing the right thing by being involved there now.

This is a reversal from October 2001, when the U.S. began military action in Afghanistan. With the country still reeling from the September 11th attacks, support for military action in Afghanistan was high and broad. Ninety percent of Americans approved of it, including solid majorities of both Democrats and Republicans.


CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan

 U.S. MILITARY ATTACKS AGAINST AFGHANISTAN (OCTOBER 2001)
All Reps Dems Inds
Approve 90% 97% 85% 87%
Disapprove 6% 1% 10% 6%
Don't Know 4% 2% 5% 7%


But eight years later the country is split on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, according to a CBS News/New York Times Poll conduced September 19-23. Forty-seven percent say the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting there, but 42 percent think the U.S. should not be involved. And there is a partisan divide now; most Republicans say the U.S. is doing the right thing, while most Democrats disagree. Independents are divided.

 IS THE U.S. DOING THE RIGHT THING BY FIGHTING THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN? (NOW)
All Reps Dems Inds
Yes 47% 67% 36% 45%
No 42% 25% 55% 41%
Don't Know 11% 8% 9% 14%


Impressions of how the war is going have deteriorated over time. Back in the fall of 2001, most Americans were optimistic about how the war was going for the U.S. in Afghanistan: eight in 10 said it was going well.

This assessment held steady through March of 2003, then much of the focus turned to the war in Iraq. CBS News next asked the public how the war in Afghanistan was going in August 2008, and found that 58 percent of Americans thought the war was going badly – a turnaround from seven years earlier. The most negative views of the war to date occurred just a few months later in December, when 62 percent described the war as going badly. Evaluations remain negative today.

(CBS)




GOALS OF THE WAR

Today, 44 percent of Americans think the main goal of U.S. military action in Afghanistan is to eliminate all terrorists from that country, outdistancing defeating the Taliban (28 percent), or capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden specifically (9 percent). The number who says Bin Laden is half of what it was eight years ago.

 WHAT IS THE MAIN GOAL OF U.S. MILITARY ACTION IN AFGHANISTAN?
Now 10/2001
Eliminate all terrorists 44% 48%
Defeat the Taliban 28% 18%
Capture/kill Bin Laden 9% 18%


In the early years of the conflict, the American public saw the capture of Osama Bin Laden as crucial to victory in Afghanistan. Majorities said if Bin Laden is not captured or killed, then the U.S. will have lost the war in Afghanistan.

Today, Americans are much less confident that the U.S. will capture Osama Bin Laden. According to a CNN/ Opinion Research Corporation Poll conducted in April of this year, 43 percent said it was likely the U.S. would be able to catch or kill Bin Laden, down dramatically from 78 percent in November 2001, a month into the conflict in Afghanistan.


 WILL U.S. BE ABLE TO CAPTURE OR KILL OSAMA BIN LADEN?
4/2009 11/2001
Likely 43% 78%
Not likely 54% 21%
** CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll **

While the public sees eliminating terrorists as the war's main goal, only 27 percent of Americans think U.S. military action in Afghanistan has reduced the threat of terrorism against the U.S. More – 51 percent - say that threat has remained the same, while 17 percent think U.S. military action has increased the threat.

U.S. TROOP LEVELS

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, recently called for an increase of U.S. troops there, but Americans' views are mixed regarding this issue. Thirty-two percent want U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan decreased, while 29 percent think they should be increased. Another 27 percent want troops to be kept at the same level. Still, the percentage who wants to see troops decreased has declined since August.

 U.S. TROOP LEVELS IN AFGHANISTAN SHOULD…
Now 8/2009
Increase 29% 25%
Decrease 32% 41%
Keep the same 27% 23%
Don't Know 12% 11%


As President Obama contemplates a new strategy in Afghanistan, 44 percent of Americans approve of his handling of Afghanistan. This percentage is down slightly from August, and has fallen 14 points since the spring.

 PRESIDENT OBAMA'S HANDLING OF AFGHANISTAN
Now 8/2009 4/2009
Approve 44% 48% 58%
Disapprove 35% 30% 21%
Don't Know 21% 22% 21%


Among the four policy areas measured in this poll, the president actually receives his lowest approval rating on Afghanistan, just behind health care. He gets his highest marks on the war in Iraq –- 54 percent of Americans approve of his handling of it. And 57 percent think that war is going well.

 PRESIDENT OBAMA'S APPROVAL RATINGS
Approve Disapprove Don't Know
Overall 56% 33% 11%
Iraq 54% 29% 17%
Health Care 47% 45% 8%
Afghanistan 44% 35% 21%


Coming up on the "CBS Evening News": Afghanistan: The Road Ahead, a 3-part, in-depth examination of the escalating conflict, airing Oct. 5-7, 6:30 p.m. ET.



Jennifer De Pinto is manager of election and survey information for CBS News. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.
  • Jennifer Pinto

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