Public opinion about the Afghan war changes

2007 - 2010

At its outset, there had been broad public support in both the UK and the US for the war in Afghanistan. From 2007, public confidence changed as the mission changed, casualties increased and costs spiralled.

Photo: Stop The War demonstration in London, 20 November 2010 (AFP/Getty Images)

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More information about: Public opinion about the Afghan war changes

In the US and the UK, there had been broad public support for the war in Afghanistan at the outset.

A clear majority was in favour of an invasion of Afghanistan to defeat al-Qaeda, and the Taliban regime sheltering it, and to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden.

However, between 2007 and 2010, public confidence changed as the mission changed, more and more American and British troops were killed and the cost of the war increased .

In an opinion poll conducted for BBC Newsnight and the Guardian in July 2009, 46% of those asked said they supported the war and 47% said they opposed it.

A similar split emerged over when British troops should leave. A narrow majority, 42%, was in favour of an immediate withdrawal with 40% saying they should stay as long as necessary. Of the others, 14% wanted a withdrawal by the end of the year.

This switch in the public mood was confirmed by other polls conducted around the same time. In one for the Independent, 52% of those asked said they wanted an immediate withdrawal of British soldiers, with 43% disagreeing.

These polls were conducted against a backdrop of intense and difficult fighting in Helmand province. The Independent poll was published on 28 July 2009 and the number of British deaths for that month alone had reached 22 and the number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan had passed the total fatalities in Iraq.

But other issues were also influencing the public mood during this period.

Men, money and munitions

Many in the UK, including military families, felt a lack of suitable equipment meant that troops were being asked to do more than was possible and that risk and sacrifice were unacceptably high as a result.

In polls, 75% of the British public agreed but there was little appetite for sending more troops and resources to the area, with 60% of those polled opposed to more troops and money being committed.

The nature of the mission itself also drew opposition. The initial assault on al-Qaeda had become an exercise in state-building which many saw as unachievable and coming at too high a cost.

Opinion mirrored in America

In the US, where the costs in money and casualties were higher, there was a similar shift in the public mood.

In August 2009 the Washington Post reported that a majority of Americans now believed the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting and that only a quarter would support an increase in the number of US troops deployed.