After 17 years of war in Afghanistan, a comfortable majority of American veterans say they would support a decision by President Donald Trump to pull all U.S. troops out of the country, according to a survey released Monday by a Washington think tank.
The joint poll from RealClearPolitics and the Charles Koch Institute, a libertarian-oriented research organization, found that more than half of Americans are skeptical of continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, an assessment that is even more common among veterans.
According to the survey, 53 percent of Americans do not believe Washington has a clear strategic objective in the Afghanistan War. About 60 percent of veterans feel the same way.
An even greater share of respondents believe the U.S. should either reduce or totally withdraw American troops in Afghanistan within five years, the poll found. Among all Americans, 63 percent support the idea, and 64 percent of veterans agree.
If Trump were to order a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan today, 69 percent of veterans would support the move, according to the survey.
“After nearly two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, Americans — including veterans — rightly recognize the war has not been going well and that we are strategically adrift,” William Ruger, vice president of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, said in a statement. “It is little wonder that a majority of Americans think we ought to decrease troop levels or even bring all of our forces home. The president should pay more attention to the American people’s realistic take than wishful thinking ‘experts’ who argue we need to stay the course.”
The Koch-RCP poll comes a day after the 17-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, which had harbored the al-Qaeda terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.
American and allied forces defeated the Taliban and drove al-Qaeda fighters into Pakistan within months, but they have remained ever since to battle a stubborn insurgency and prop up the weak U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
By most metrics, the U.S.-led occupation has largely failed to usher in a stable and unified Afghanistan. Today, the Taliban controls or contests 44 percent of Afghanistan’s territorial districts, according to the Pentagon. Independent analysis by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal puts that figure at 61 percent.
The Taliban’s resurgence has been enabled by the Afghan government’s inability to stand up a cohesive national security force capable of decisively beating the insurgents in combat. Beset by corruption and desertion problems, Afghan army and police forces are now losing between 30 and 40 members per day to Islamic insurgents, rates not seen since the Pentagon stopped releasing official casualty counts in 2016.
Those disappointing results have come at a heavy price — more than 2,300 American troops killed, another 20,000 wounded, and more than $1 trillion spent on the war effort.
Trump came into office expressing deep doubts about the strategic rationale for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Even so, he authorized in August 2017 a “mini-surge” of about 3,000 U.S. troops as part of his administrations revamped South Asia strategy. In the 14 months since, the Taliban has inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan forces, dashing hopes the insurgency could be quickly forced to the negotiating table.
Even before Trump took office, the Afghanistan War was by far the longest sustained military conflict in U.S. history. America’s second-longest war, the Vietnam War, officially lasted nine years, as measured by the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 through the withdrawal of American combat forces in 1973.
The Koch-RCP poll of 1,210 U.S. adults and 613 current and former military personnel was conducted online by YouGov between Sept. 25-27. It has a margin of error of 2.9 percent for the national sample and 4.0 percent for the military sample.
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