Western public turns against Afghan mission

9th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

An air strike ordered by a German commander in Afghanistan last week that left scores dead has moved what was already an unpopular mission up the political agenda ahead of German general elections this month.

Paris -- The governments of countries that sent troops to Afghanistan are now facing increasingly hostile public opposition to the war as more soldiers die in a distant land and no end appears in sight.

"Public opinion no longer accepts a scenario in which deaths are futile and the timetable uncertain," said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute of International Relations.

Domestic public pressure was one of the factors that led Britain, France and Germany to call for an international conference on Afghanistan later this year to press Afghans to take more responsibility for their own country, he said.

The summit will make clear to countries involved in Afghanistan "what job they have to do and what our common aim is," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday.

An air strike ordered by a German commander in Afghanistan last week that left scores dead has moved what was already an unpopular mission up the political agenda ahead of German general elections this month.

Even before the air strike controversy, a poll in July showed that up to 69 percent of Germans wanted their soldiers to pull out of Afghanistan.

German popular opposition to the mission is echoed in many of the 42 states contributing to the 100,000-strong international force in Afghanistan, 65,000 of whom form the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The Taliban insurgency has proved tenacious, with militants seeking refuge and destabilising neighbouring Pakistan, and Western countries have grown frustrated about widespread corruption in President Hamid Karzai's government.

The presidential election held on August 20, is likely to result in another term for the Western-backed Karzai, but has been overshadowed by allegations of widespread fraud and vote-rigging.

In the United States, which provides around two-thirds of the foreign troops, a CNN poll last week showed 57 percent now oppose the war in Afghanistan and 40 percent believe it cannot be won.

Obama has put Afghanistan at the heart of his foreign policy, saying like many other leaders of troop-contributing countries that the Taliban must be beaten in order to curb the threat of terrorism worldwide.

For months he has been calling for new thinking in Afghanistan to counter Taliban attacks, now happening at the highest rate since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Islamist regime.

But the US public, dismayed by the death of 184 American soldiers so far this year, has not swung behind the president's plans.

Moisi said US liberals feel betrayed by Obama on Afghanistan.

"They don't understand how he can continue with such disappointing results," he said.

In France, which has some 2,900 troops in the coalition, 64 percent are opposed to the mission, according to a poll last month. Thirty-one French troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

French opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry has called for a "real debate" on the French mission in Afghanistan and stated that France cannot "remain in such a quagmire."

In Britain, which has about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, a poll in July showed that 47 percent of those questioned were opposed to the mission but that 46 percent approved.

More than 200 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists the country's troops are in for a long stint there.

"Each time I ask myself if we are doing the right thing by being in Afghanistan and if we can justify sending our young men and women to fight for this cause, my answer has always been yes," he said.

"For when the security of our country is at stake we cannot walk away," he said last week in a major speech defending his Afghan policy.

The governments of Canada and Australia are also struggling to explain to their electorates why their soldiers are dying in a country many thousands of miles away, Moisi said.

Italy, Spain and Romania, which also contribute to the Afghan mission, have so far not seen major public opposition to the mission.


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