Afghan War Not Worth It, say Most Americans

Published on
by
Sydney Morning Herald

Afghan War Not Worth It, say Most Americans

by
Simon Mann

Arrested ... Daniel Ellsberg, the activist who leaked the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War in 1971. He defended WikiLeaks and the army officer accused of leaking diplomatic cables. Photo: AFP

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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