After falling to record lows, support for the Afghanistan war has risen since 2013, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that also finds majority support for a plan to keep thousands of troops in the country in the coming year.
Overall, Americans remain downbeat over the war at the end of NATO’s 13-year combat mission. A 56 percent majority says it has not been worth fighting, continuing a negative streak that dates to 2010 in Post-ABC polls. But 38 percent in the new survey say the war was worth the costs, up eight points from December 2013 and 10 points from a record low that July (28 percent).
The bounce-back in positive views is driven by a dramatic reversal of opinion among Republicans. Only 39 percent of Republicans said the war was worth fighting in late 2013, but 56 percent believe so today, marking an end to a massive downward slide since 2009. In the early months of Barack Obama’s presidency, as many as 77 percent of Republicans said the war was worth fighting.
Support for the war also increased among political independents in the past year, from 26 to 35 percent, though roughly six in 10 independents and Democrats alike continue to say the war was not worth it.
Despite the overall negative appraisal, over half of Americans (54 percent) favor keeping U.S. troops in the country to help Afghan forces train and perform counter-insurgency roles. The residual force garners rare cross-partisan support, including at least half of Republicans (66 percent), Democrats (52 percent) and independents (51 percent).
At peak levels, in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. That number has fallen dramatically since then and will drop to 10,000 in 2015 and half that by 2016. With the U.S.-led NATO combat mission officially over, about half of the American troops remaining are expected to serve in a new NATO operation advising and training Afghan security forces and half will service in a separate U.S.-only contingent focused on force protection, logistical support and counterterrorism.
Americans are split down the middle on the question of whether the Afghan war, launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has made the U.S. more secure. Forty-eight percent say it has made the U.S. more secure while 47 percent say otherwise, marking a modest improvement from 2013, when 50 percent doubted the impact of the fight on U.S. security. Few see major benefits, however, with 19 percent saying the war has contributed “a great deal” to national security.
Partisan divisions return on this issue, with nearly two in three Republicans saying the war has contributed to U.S. security (65 percent), while most Democrats say it has not and independents split more evenly.
The uptick in positive views of the Afghan war overall comes after a pivotal year that saw a drawdown in NATO forces, the election of President Ashraf Ghani and the signing by Afghan officials of a bilateral security agreement allowing U.S. and NATO forces to remain in the country. The shift also follows months of U.S. military efforts to prevent Iraq from being overrun by Islamic State militants, emboldening critics who say the Obama administration withdrew hastily from a war he promised to end.
Last year also saw the Obama administration release five Guantanamo Bay detainees in a prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan in 2009. A July Post-ABC poll found 39 percent approved of the exchange, while 51 percent disapproved.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 11-14 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Interactive survey breakdowns by group are available here, and complete wording, order and methodology are available here.