- 47% say U.S. military involvement was a mistake; 46% say it was not
- Historically, Americans have been generally supportive of the effort
- 56% of Democrats and 29% of Republicans now say it was a mistake
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the U.S. military continues its drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, Americans are evenly divided in their views on whether it was a mistake for the U.S. to send troops into the country nearly 20 years ago. This is in contrast with most of the readings over the past two decades, which have found Americans generally more positive than negative toward the effort there. This is only the second time that less than half of Americans (46%) say U.S. involvement was not a mistake.
Line graph. Americans' views of whether or not they think the U.S. made a mistake sending troops to fight in Afghanistan since 2001. The latest readings find 47% think it was a mistake and 46% say it was not. This is only the second time that less than half of Americans say U.S. involvement was not a mistake.
President Joe Biden's July 8 announcement confirming that the United States' military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31 came just after the start of Gallup's July 6-21 poll. Biden, who has long been critical of the Afghanistan War, first announced in April that he would remove U.S. troops before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, which precipitated the military action. All told, the war has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members, resulted in injury to more than 20,000 U.S. troops and cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion.
Views of the nation's longest war have evolved since shortly after it began in October 2001, when the U.S. public largely supported it. In early 2002, a record-high 93% of Americans said it was not a mistake to have sent troops to Afghanistan. Between 2004 and 2013, majorities continued to hold this belief, albeit in declining numbers. In 2014, U.S. adults were for the first time as likely to say it was a mistake as to say it was not; however, public opinion once again tilted against it being a mistake in 2015 and 2019. This year's reading is on par with the 2014 finding.
Gallup surveys tracking Americans' perceptions of previous wars, including Iraq, Vietnam and Korea, have found majorities at some point describing those efforts as a mistake, something that has not occurred with respect to Afghanistan.
Partisans' Views of Afghanistan War Remain Divergent
President George W. Bush first ordered U.S. troops to strike Afghanistan several weeks after 9/11 to destroy al Qaeda's base of operations and prevent future terrorist attacks against the U.S. The action initially enjoyed broad bipartisan support; yet, by 2004, 41% of Democrats considered the war in Afghanistan to be a mistake while 9% of Republicans and 31% of independents agreed.
This pattern has generally persisted throughout the course of the war, with Democrats more likely than Republicans and independents to be critical of the war. With few exceptions, at least half of Democrats viewed the war as a mistake during the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
The last time less than half of Democrats said the war was a mistake was in May 2011 after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. Currently, 56% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 54% of independents think the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Afghanistan.
Line graph. Partisans' views of whether or not they think the U.S. made a mistake sending troops to fight in Afghanistan since 2001. The latest readings find 56% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 54% of independents think it was a mistake.
As the U.S. military continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the public is now divided over whether embarking on the war was a mistake, which is among the least positive assessments in the past two decades. Still, it is more positive than some other prolonged military engagements.
Biden and those who support the drawdown assert that the U.S. has accomplished its goals in Afghanistan -- finding the terrorists who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, killing Osama bin Laden and trying to limit the country's base of operations for terrorists. They assert that nation-building was not part of the strategy and that it has dragged on for too long and cost the U.S. too many lives and too much money. At the same time, critics of the drawdown cite concerns about the Taliban taking control of the country, more terrorist attacks against the U.S. and harm to Afghan citizens. What ultimately happens after U.S. troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan will likely affect not only Americans' perceptions of whether the war was a mistake but history's judgment as well.
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