WASHINGTON — Americans express near-record discontent and regret over the 13-year war in Afghanistan after its 2,289 U.S. casualties and more than 19,000 wounded soldiers, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Fully 66 percent of Americans say the war, which began with nearly unanimous support, has not been worth fighting. A majority of Americans have doubted the war’s value in each Post-ABC poll since 2010, with current disapproval only one percentage point below July’s record mark. A record 50 percent now “strongly” believes the war is not worth the costs.
Despite the skepticism, a 55 percent majority favors keeping some U.S. forces in Afghanistan going forward for anti-insurgency operations and training, while just over four in 10 prefer removing all troops from the country.
The future U.S. military role remains in limbo because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would keep an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops in the country after 2014.
The U.S. military is rapidly drawing down forces in Afghanistan, shrinking its current 47,000-troop commitment to 32,000 in February. The Obama administration had said a delay in signing the agreement could lead to a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, as happened in Iraq when the governments in Baghdad and Washington failed to sign a security agreement. The White House last week softened its demand that the security agreement be signed by the end of the year but insists quick approval is necessary for planning the future U.S. role.
Support for a contingency training and anti-insurgency force also crosses party lines, with most Democrats, Republicans and independents preferring to keep a small number of troops in Afghanistan. The large majority who see the Afghan war as not worth fighting are split on whether to maintain an anti-insurgency force, while those who see the war as worthwhile overwhelmingly support the idea.
A separate Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday found 57 percent of Americans saying the United States did “the wrong thing” in going to war with Afghanistan in the first place, with mixed feelings toward keeping troops in the country past 2014. President Barack Obama received negative marks for his handling of the situation, with 53 percent disapproving and 45 percent approving.
The public’s war weariness stands in stark contrast to its extraordinary support for U.S.-led airstrikes when they began less than one month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. A Post-ABC poll the day strikes began found that 94 percent of Americans supported military action, and support remained steady at 91 percent six months later, after American forces ousted the Taliban from major cities.
According to a Post-ABC News survey, by early 2007, only 56 percent said the war was worth fighting, as the Iraq war drew record-low support and with Republicans and Democrats fractured on both conflicts. Support dropped sharply in 2009, a year with more than 300 Americans deaths, and again in 2011, following the war’s bloodiest year.
Partisan divisions over the war have dissipated in recent years as support has withered across all groups, with Republican support diving sharply since 2010. Today, 67 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents say the war has not been worth fighting, as do 54 percent of Republicans. Republican doubts stood at only 29 percent in early 2010.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Dec. 12 to 15 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults, including interviews on land lines and with cellphone-only respondents. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.