August 31, 2009

Few in NATO Support Call For Additional Forces in Afghanistan

by Richard C. Auxier, Research Assistant, Pew Research Center

In an assessment of the war in Afghanistan by the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal stated a new strategy is needed to fight the Taliban. Although it was not addressed in the strategic review sent to both the Pentagon and NATO headquarters on Monday, it is widely anticipated that McChrystal will ask for more troopsto deal with the situation in a separate request expected in a couple of weeks, a proposal that may face considerable opposition in many NATO countries.

While the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes survey of 25 nations found broad global support for President Barack Obama and his policy goals, the one notable exception was his decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan. (The possible troop increase proposed by McChrystal would be in addition to the earlier increase advocated by Obama and asked about in the survey.)

Significant opposition to troop increases was found in all NATO countries polled; at least half of those surveyed in Germany (63%), France (62%), Poland (57%), Canada (55%), Britain (51%) and Spain (50%) disapproved of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

In Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation and longtime NATO ally of the U.S., only 16% approve of a troop increase, while 49% disapprove. Given that Obama’s personal popularity was not able to translate into support for his Afghanistan policy in countries that have confidence in him on foreign policy, it is not surprising that opposition to his decision to send more troops was even greater in majority Muslim nations, where Obama is not as popular. For instance, large majorities in the Palestinian territories (84%), Lebanon (67%), Jordan (66%) and Egypt (64%) disapproved of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

In addition to opposing new troop commitments, many in NATO countries want troops withdrawn altogether. In France, Germany and Spain, opinion is almost evenly divided between those who support keeping troops in Afghanistan until the situation there has stabilized and those who want troops removed as soon as possible. However, in all three countries support for keeping troops has increased slightly since last year.

There has been little change in opinion in Britain, where 46% support keeping troops in Afghanistan and 48% want forces removed. Poles (30% keep troops, 57% remove troops) and Turks (15% keep troops, 63% remove troops) are overwhelmingly in favor of removing troops, but support for keeping them in Afghanistan is up slightly from 2008.

The survey, which was conducted in May-June, 2009, found that 57% of Americans endorsed the idea of keeping troops in Afghanistan, up seven percentage points from the 2008 Pew Global Attitudes survey. A similar number (54%) approved of Obama’s decision to send additional troops.

In recent weeks, the level of violence in Afghanistan has increased. Indeed, August was the deadliest month for American combat forces since the beginning of the war. Along with the uptick in violence, the war has received an increased level of media scrutiny. During the week of August 17, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that the war in Afghanistan received its highest amount of news coverage since PEJ began its News Coverage Index in January 2007. In fact, in the previous three weeks, Afghanistan had received almost three times the media attention as the war in Iraq.

Recent polling suggests American support for troop increases in Afghanistan has fallen. A Washington Post poll conducted August 13-17 found only 24% of Americans favor an additional troop increase, while roughly twice as many (45%) want to decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan. The remaining respondents want to keep forces at their current level. A January Washington Post poll reported public sentiment more strongly in favor of troop increases.