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Amid British furor over Afghan rescue mission, war support plummets

The day after New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell was released by British commandos, a new poll finds growing opposition to the UK's troop commitment to the war.

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The episode comes as Brown and his cabinet are battling to shore up support for the war. On Wednesday, a survey published by Britain's National Army Museum showed that 53 percent of Britons now disagreed with the initial decision to deploy British troops to Afghanistan, while just 25 percent said they agreed.

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Those figures are broadly in line with European sentiment. The Marshall Fund poll found that 63 percent of Europeans are pessimistic about stabilizing the situation.

But the level of opposition in Britain, regarded as more of a rock of support for the conflict until now, may shock planners in the White House, Downing Street, and NATO headquarters.

Jonathan Tonge, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool, says the changing British public view of Afghanistan was now reminiscent of attitudes towards the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland, when the public was almost always in favor of pulling troops out, apart from a few occasions when infamous IRA attacks enraged public opinion and caused a spike in the opposite direction.

"Part of the reason is the escalating number of fatalities among troops, but people are also not clear on how long this will last for, they are unsure if the war is winnable, what victory will look like, and whether it really has any effect on reducing the terrorist threat at home, where many terrorists have turned out to be homegrown," he says. "If you polled people after 9/11, there was a gung-ho attitude toward going in, but that has evaporated."

Mr. Tonge predicts that both Labour and the opposition Conservative Party will soon be exploring options for a quiet exit from Afghanistan.

Tonge does not expect Afghanistan to become a major election issue, as it has in Germany, where a resurgent left is using it to attack Chancellor Angela Merkel. Instead, he says, the political consensus in Britain is beginning to crack.

Election fraud

Both the Conservatives and Britain's third major party, the Liberal Democrats, are preparing to call for the disputed Afghan election to be re-run, while the Conservative leader, David Cameron, regarded by many as a prime minister in waiting, was recorded Wednesday by a BBC camera crew lamenting "naked" fraud in Afghanistan's election.

Although his remarks were said to have been private, there are suspicions that his party may be preparing to open up blue water between it and the government.

But the strategy that political pundits say Cameron is considering would hinge on sending in more British troops for a short duration to train the Afghan Army.

Brown is also facing mounting opposition within his own party, which may explode into open political civil war at Labour's annual conference later this month. Long-term antiwar activists sense the wind is now in their sails.

"When it came to Iraq, we were told it was about weapons of mass destruction. With Afghanistan, it was terrorism, and perhaps people thought it was a 'good' war because of that," says Ms. Gentle. "But now we are at a turning point. Everywhere you go, you bump into people who know or are related to someone serving in Afghanistan, or have a relative there. Anytime a soldier gets killed, the ripples get bigger."


Is Afghanistan worth fighting for?

Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is skeptical about a troop surge, while Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History and the Last Man," sees reasons to persist.