Afghans More Skeptical of U.S. Leadership, Troops in 2009

by Julie Ray and Rajesh Srinivasan

Image of United States also viewed less favorably

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Barack Obama's decision in December to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan came at a time when Afghans appeared increasingly mixed on whether additional troops would help. Afghans surveyed in late September and early October (46%) were as likely as they were in June (49%) to say additional troops would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces. However, the number who said more troops would not help increased from 32% to 41% -- possibly reflecting the security problems Afghans experienced despite the increase in troops before the election.


Talks last week in London laid the groundwork for the U.S. and NATO allies to leave Afghanistan, but before that happens, U.S. and allied troop numbers will surge by more than 30,000 in coming months. Gallup's most recent survey found many Afghans remained receptive to the idea of additional U.S. troops, but that the gap was narrowing.

Afghans' Approval of U.S Leadership Down Slightly

Afghans' views of U.S. leadership also appeared to erode from mid- to late 2009 as the Obama administration weighed its course of action. The 44% of Afghans who said they approved in late September/early October was down slightly from 50% in June. But Afghans' opinions of U.S. leadership overall remained split, as they have been since the end of the Bush administration. And approval ratings still remained higher than those found elsewhere in South Asia.


Overall, Afghans who said they approved of U.S. leadership were more likely to say sending additional U.S. troops would help the security situation in the southern provinces (61%) than those who disapproved (33%). This pattern held across several regions in Afghanistan, though approval numbers in several regions, such as the West and South, were too small to report results.

Views of U.S. Increasingly Unfavorable

In the most recent survey, Afghans' opinions of the United States, as a nation, were the lowest Gallup has measured to date. Asked to rate the extent of their favorability on a 5-point scale, where 1 is very unfavorable and 5 is very favorable, a majority of Afghans (52%) rated the United States very (24%) or somewhat unfavorable (28%).


Ratings of Iran and China, the two other nations Afghans were asked about, were also the least favorable to date. Far fewer Afghans, however, rated China or Iran as unfavorably as the United States. Thirty-nine percent of Afghans rated China very (17%) or somewhat unfavorably (22%), while 41% rated Iran very (17%) or somewhat unfavorably (24%).

Bottom Line

The military surge in the coming months is only one part of the new proposed strategy for Afghanistan, but Afghans' confidence that it will help bring stability will be vitally important to the U.S. and allies' efforts. Gallup's surveys ahead of the surge suggest Afghans' confidence, as well as their approval of U.S. leadership, were faltering last October. So, not only will U.S. troops be battling insurgents in coming months, they likely will also be combating Afghans' increasing skepticism that they can actually help the situation.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults in urban and rural areas, aged 15 and older, conducted in December 2008, June 2009, and September/October 2009 in Afghanistan. For results based on the sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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