Majority of Americans say Afghan war has not been worth fighting, Post-ABC News poll finds

D. Myles Cullen/AP - In thisDec. 9, photo provided by the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, center, arrives at Kandahar Regional Medical Hospital in Afghanistan.

Americans express near-
record discontent and regret over the 13-year war in Afghanistan, during which 2,289 U.S. troops have died and more than 19,000 have been wounded, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Fully 66 percent of Americans say the battle, which began with nearly unanimous support, has not been worth fighting. A majority of respondents 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” believe the war is not worth its costs.

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Support for the war in Afghanistan
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Support for the war in Afghanistan

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Despite the skepticism, a 55 percent majority favors keeping some U.S. forces in Afghanistan for anti-insurgency operations and training, while just over four in 10 prefer removing all troops.

The 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 troops in the country after 2014.

The United States is rapidly drawing down forces in Afghanistan, shrinking its 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 did not 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 that quick approval is necessary for planning the 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 consider the Afghan war not worth fighting are split on whether to maintain an anti-insurgency force, while those who view the war as worthwhile overwhelmingly support the idea.

In a separate Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday, 57 percent of Americans said the United States did “the wrong thing” in going to war with Afghanistan, with mixed feelings toward keeping troops in the country past 2014. 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 attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A Post-ABC poll the day strikes began found that 94 percent of Americans favored military action, and support remained steady at 91 percent six months later, after U.S. 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 casualties, and again in 2011, following the war’s bloodiest year.

Partisan divisions over the conflict have dissipated in recent years as support has withered across all groups, with Republican support decreasing 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. GOP 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.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

 
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