June 21, 2011

Record Number Favors Removing U.S. Troops from Afghanistan

Overview

As President Obama prepares to announce his policy for drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the percentage of Americans who favor removing the troops as soon as possible has reached an all-time high in Pew Research Center surveys.

For the first time, a majority (56%) says that U.S. troops should be brought home as soon as possible, while 39% favor keeping troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.

The proportion favoring a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces has increased by eight points since last month (from 48%), immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden. A year ago, just 40% favored removing the troops as soon as possible, while 53% favored keeping them in Afghanistan until the situation stabilized.

Americans continue to say the decision to use force in Afghanistan was the right one, and 58% believe the United States will definitely or probably succeed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan. That is largely unchanged from the 62% who said the U.S. would achieve its goals in Afghanistan shortly after Osama’s death. But at the same time, a majority (56%) says it is unlikely that Afghanistan will be able to maintain a stable government after the U.S. military leaves.

Even among those who predict the U.S. will be successful in Afghanistan, nearly as many favor removing the troops as soon possible (46%) as favor keeping then there until the situation is stable (51%). Among those who say the U.S. will definitely or probably fail in achieving its goals – 34% of the public – a large majority (75%) supports removing the troops as soon as possible.

Over the past year, support for removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible has increased across nearly all political and demographic groups.

Two-thirds of Democrats (67%) now say troops should be removed as soon as possible, up from 43% a year ago. A majority (57%) of independents also support immediate troop withdrawal, an increase of 15 points from last year.

Republican support for removing U.S. troops as soon as possible has risen 12 points since last June. At that time, 65% of Republicans favored keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan until the situation is stabilized while 31% favored removing them as soon as possible. In the current survey, 53% support keeping the troops there and 43% favor their withdrawal.

Over the past year, support for withdrawing the troops has doubled among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party. A year ago only 21% favored immediate troop withdrawal; that has risen to 42% currently.

War Still Viewed as Right Decision

A majority (57%) continues to say the U.S. made the right decision in using military force in Afghanistan while 35% said it was the wrong decision. Republicans are more likely than Democrats and independents to say it was the right decision.

The public’s assessments of the military effort in Afghanistan have changed little over the past few months – 53% say the military effort is going at least fairly well. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats and independents to say the effort is going well.

Optimism about success in Afghanistan increased after bin Laden’s death and remains higher than it was last year – 58% say the U.S. will definitely or probably succeed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan. But Republicans (67%) and Democrats (61%) are more optimistic about success than independents (51%).

Only 38% says that it is likely Afghanistan will be able to maintain a stable government when U.S. military forces leave the country while 56% say it is unlikely. In November 2009 the public was more optimistic about Iraq – 52% said it was at least somewhat likely Iraq would be able to maintain a stable government after U.S. forces left. There are very little partisan differences – a majority across party lines says it is unlikely Afghanistan will be able to maintain a stable government.

Cite this publication: “Record Number Favors Removing U.S. Troops from Afghanistan.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2011) http://www.people-press.org/2011/06/21/record-number-favors-removing-u-s-troops-from-afghanistan/, accessed on July 22, 2014.