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Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say Afghan war isn't worth fighting

Afghan National Army recruits walk back to their formation after completing marksmanship training during Basic Warrior Training at the Kabul Military Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghan National Army recruits walk back to their formation after completing marksmanship training during Basic Warrior Training at the Kabul Military Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

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By Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 10:51 AM

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now say the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting, the highest proportion yet opposed to the conflict, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The finding signals a growing challenge for President Obama as he decides how quickly to pull U.S. forces from the country beginning this summer. After nearly a decade of conflict, political opposition to the battle breaks sharply along partisan lines, with only 19 percent of Democratic respondents and half of Republicans surveyed saying the war continues to be worth fighting.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a "substantial number" of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer, the deadline he set to begin pulling out some forces. Only 39 percent of respondents, however, say they expect him to withdraw large numbers.

The Post-ABC News poll results come as Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, prepares to testify before Congress on Tuesday about the course of the war. He is expected to face tough questioning about a conflict that is increasingly unpopular among a broad cross section of Americans.

Petraeus will tell Congress that "things are progressing very well," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Monday. But because of battlefield gains made by U.S. and coalition forces since last year, Morrell told MSNBC, "it's going to be heavy and intensive in terms of fighting" once the winter cold passes.

The poll began asking only in 2007 whether the Afghan war is worth fighting, but support has almost certainly never been as low as it is in the most recent survey.

The growing opposition presents Obama with a difficult political challenge ahead of his 2012 reelection effort, especially in his pursuit of independent voters.

Since Democrats took a beating in last year's midterm elections, Obama has appealed to independents with a middle-of-the-road approach to George W. Bush-era tax cuts and budget negotiations with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. He called a news conference last week to express concern about rising gasoline prices, an economically pressing issue for many independent voters.

But his approach to the Afghan war has not won over the independents or liberal Democrats who propelled his campaign two years ago, and the most recent Post-ABC News poll reinforces the importance of Republicans as the chief constituency supporting his strategy. The results suggest that the war will be an awkward issue for the president as he looks for ways to end it. Nearly 1,500 U.S. troops have died since the fighting began in 2001.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to withdraw American forces from the Iraq war, which he opposed, and devote more resources to the flagging effort in Afghanistan, which he has called an essential front in combating Islamist terrorism targeting the United States.

After a months-long strategy review in the fall of 2009, he announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan - taking the total to more than 100,000 - and a July 2011 deadline for the start of their withdrawal.

The number of respondents to the Post-ABC News poll who say the war is not worth fighting has risen from 44 percent in late 2009 to 64 percent in the survey conducted last week.

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