ABC News’ survey of Afghan public opinion is chock full of good news for coalition efforts. Most fundamentally, not only do a majority of Afghans continue to support the presence of foreign troops in their country, but over the past twelve months a long slide in the number of supporters has turned around. This rests side-by-side with the basic fact that the foreign troops remain unpopular—just 38 percent give American forces a positive rating. That, however, is up from 32 percent a year ago. As recently as 2006, American troops were actually well-liked with a majority giving positive ratings. Crucially, though, despite their dislike of the foreign soldiers it seems that most Afghans don’t want them to leave.
The important thing to note about this, however, is that there’s a big regional gap. In the south and east of Afghanistan just 42 percent say they support America’s presence. In the rest of Afghanistan it’s 78 percent.
To me this underscores the importance of the point from Gilles Dorronsoro that I’ve been trying to echo—it matters a great deal where we put our troops. Given that even with the various surges under way, the number of soldiers in Afghanistan is still going to be relatively small, it’s crucial that we focus our efforts on where we’ll do the most good. And there’s a decent case that that means not taking the fight to the enemy in the south and the east. Instead we could make sure that those Afghans who want our help get it in a robust way—really good security against Taliban raids and warlords, plus serious help with economic development and whatever we can do against corruption.