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Quagmire? Nine years on, Americans grow weary of war in Afghanistan

Americans approve of Gen. David Petraeus as the new US commander in Afghanistan. But after nine years and with mounting US casualties, support for the war itself is waning.

By Staff Writer / June 26, 2010

President Barack Obama announced this week that he was replacing General Stanley McCrystal as Commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan with General David Petraeus (right).

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Until recently, the nine-year conflict in Afghanistan had become “the forgotten war” for many Americans – a complaint increasingly heard among US troops there.

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But this week’s sacking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as US commander puts Afghanistan – and especially how the fight against the Taliban is going – squarely back into public thought and concern.

Most Americans agree with Obama that McChrystal had to go, polls show. But they’re far less supportive of the conflict itself, weary of what’s become the longest war in US history.

A recent Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters finds that just 41 percent “now believe it is possible for the United States to win the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan.” More to the point, a plurality of 48 percent now say ending the war in Afghanistan is a more important goal than winning it.

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

Meanwhile, 53 percent of those polled by Newsweek disapprove of how Obama is managing the war – a sharp reversal since February when 55 percent supported Obama on Afghanistan and just 27 percent did not. (Put another way, the percentage of Americans who disapprove of Obama’s Afghan policy has nearly doubled in four months.)

The same Newsweek poll finds that “46 percent of respondents think America is losing the war in Afghanistan (26 percent say the military is winning). A similar plurality think the US is losing the broader war on terrorism (43 percent vs. 29 percent)…”

Part of this has to do with the nature of a counterinsurgency (COIN) effort – a phrase and acronym which has been around at least since the early days of Vietnam. Even when it works, counterinsurgency can take years. And the two most recent major examples – France in Algeria and the United States in Vietnam – hardly worked. Hearts and minds must be won, not only in the war zone, but at home as well.

In naming Gen. David Petraeus as McChrystal’s replacement, President Obama emphasized that there would be no change in war policy or strategy. The goal is still to defeat the Taliban, develop Afghan army and police forces, and seriously consider withdrawing US forces in little more than a year from now.

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