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Afghan War Not Worth It, say Most Americans

by Simon Mann

US public support for the war in Afghanistan has reached a record low, overshadowing a major review that has revealed modest progress in the conflict.

Sixty per cent of Americans now say the war has not been ''worth fighting'', with 43 per cent ''strongly'' of that opinion.

The opposition has grown in recent months, despite a big fall in the number of US and allied casualties from mid-year peaks recorded at the height of the US troop surge.

While the increasingly negative assessment spells political danger for President Barack Obama, most have welcomed his pledge to start withdrawing troops by the middle of next year, a plan that the review concluded remained on track.

However, the assessment cited Afghanistan governance and the ability of Taliban fighters to retreat to ''safe havens'' within neighbouring Pakistan as continuing challenges.

''The gains we've made are still fragile and reversible,'' President Obama said.

''I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.''

The publication of the review coincided with anti-war protests held across the US, including one in Washington in which people chained themselves to the White House fence, leading to about 100 arrests.

Among those detained was Daniel Ellsberg, 79, the anti-war campaigner best-known for leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War in 1971, and who earlier on Thursday defended both the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and the army intelligence officer accused of passing more than 250,000 sensitive diplomatic cables to the website.

''I think they provided a very valuable service,'' Mr Ellsberg said, noting that the documents had revealed the extent that US special forces were involved in military operations in tribal areas of Pakistan.

''To call them terrorists is not only mistaken, it's absurd,'' he added, referring to Mr Assange and Private Bradley Manning, 23, who is being held in detention at a marine training base in Virginia.

Declining American support for the conflict has been reflected in several recent surveys, but this week's ABC/Washington Post poll showed a fall of 14 percentage points since July.

Only 34 per cent of respondents said they now supported the conflict, the longest-running war in US history.

The lack of support mirrors that for the Iraq war, with the proportion of Americans claiming the war was not worthwhile peaking at 66 per cent in April, 2007.

Asked whether the administration could justify its Afghanistan strategy, the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, acknowledged the campaign's universal unpopularity. ''I think if you look at polling in almost all of our 49 coalition partners' countries, public opinion is in doubt,'' he told a news conference.

''Public opinion would be … in terms of majority, against their participation [in the war].

''I would just say that it's obviously the responsibility of leaders to pay attention to public opinion, but at the end of the day their responsibility is to look out for the public interest and to look to the long term.''

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