Americans favor limited U.S. role in Afghanistan: Reuters Poll

WASHINGTON Sat May 5, 2012 2:55am IST

U.S. soldiers from 5-20 infantry Regiment attached to 82nd Airborne enter a barn while on patrol in Zharay district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

U.S. soldiers from 5-20 infantry Regiment attached to 82nd Airborne enter a barn while on patrol in Zharay district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan April 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most Americans want U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and oppose a significant long-term commitment to support that nation's economy and security, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Friday.

But the poll also indicated that most Americans favor keeping some U.S. forces in Afghanistan to help train that nation's troops, and to continue missions targeting al-Qaeda.

Taken together, the findings suggest "Americans essentially want to be done with Afghanistan," said Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson.

NATO's roughly 130,000 troops there - of which about 99,000 are from the United States - are scheduled to withdraw by 2014. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the Obama administration would like to remove most U.S. combat troops by the end of next year.

The poll was conducted in the days after President Barack Obama marked the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death with a surprise trip to Afghanistan and the signing of an agreement laying out a long-term U.S. role in Afghanistan.

The agreement is not particularly specific, but it calls for the United States to provide training for Afghan troops and other aid through 2024.

Almost two-thirds of the 776 Americans surveyed in the online poll said they did not want Washington to be committed to supporting Afghan economic and security development that long.

Seventy-seven percent said they wanted all U.S. combat troops - excluding trainers and special forces - to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2012. Nearly the same amount, 73 percent, said they did not want the United States to establish any permanent military bases in Afghanistan.

"But if you start to talk about some specifics like hunting down al-Qaeda or even providing trainers for the Afghan security forces, you have a small majority of people who support those notions," Jackson said.

Six out of ten Americans said they favored having the United States keep forces in Afghanistan to conduct missions targeting al-Qaeda and 57 percent were in favor of having troops in the country to help with training.

"Basically since before the 2008 election there's been an increasing sense of war fatigue with the American population," Jackson said. "They want things to be done with but they don't want them to be done in a way that makes it seem like we've lost or were defeated. They want to end it with a win."

During a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the strategic partnership agreement, which was aimed at offering Afghans reassurances that they would not be abandoned when most NATO combat troops leave.

In a televised speech, Obama said there was a "clear path" to fulfilling the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and said the defeat of al-Qaeda was "within reach."

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted from May 2-4. The precision of the online polls is measured using a credibility interval, similar to a margin of error. This poll had a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

(Editing by David Lindsey and Cynthia Osterman)

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