NEW YORK, Aug 31— Less than 40 per cent of Americans approve of President Joe Biden’s handling of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and three quarters wanted US forces to remain in the country until all American civilians could get out, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released yesterday.
The national survey, conducted August 27-30, found that 51 per cent disapproved of Biden’s approach to the pullout while 38 per cent approved.
The United States completed the withdrawal of its military forces from Afghanistan yesterday, two decades after it invaded the country following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The United States and its allies have flown out more than 122,000 people since August 14, including their own citizens and Afghans who helped them over 20 years of war.
But some Americans and many thousands of eligible Afghans did not make it out of the country, which is now once again under the control of the Taliban. Washington will pursue a diplomatic effort to evacuate those left behind.
In the poll, completed just before the last US troops left Afghanistan, 49 per cent said the US military should stay in Afghanistan “until all American citizens and Afghan allies have been evacuated,” and 25 per cent said that US forces should remain until all US citizens could leave.
Only 13 per cent said that troops should “evacuate immediately.”
When asked what they thought of how the Biden administration handled the resettlement of America’s Afghan allies, 45 per cent approved while 42 per cent disapproved.
Biden’s administration has been swamped by a trio of crises this month, including the coronavirus pandemic and Hurricane Ida, which wreaked havoc across Louisiana after making landfall on Sunday.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 20 per cent of adults said Biden deserves the “most blame for the current state” of the Afghanistan war.
Ten per cent mostly blamed former President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion of the country two decades ago, and 9 per cent blamed former President Donald Trump, who last year negotiated a swift withdrawal of US forces.
Another 30 per cent blamed a slew of other actors in the region, including the Taliban, the Afghan military, US military leaders and ISIS-K, the militant group that claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members.
Even as they watched the dramatic evacuation under way in Afghanistan, Americans remained focused on issues closer to home: the pandemic and the US economy. Both are areas of relative strength for Biden.
The poll found that 35 per cent of Americans believe that the coronavirus is the biggest problem facing the country today, while 18 per cent said it was the economy. Only 10 per cent said it was the war in Afghanistan.
Some 55 per cent of adults approve of the way Biden has steered America’s Covid-19 response, while 38 per cent disapprove. About the economy, 47 per cent said they approved of his policies while 45 per cent disapproved.
Americans also do not appear to be beating up on Biden’s Democratic Party following the highly criticised evacuation effort in Afghanistan.
When asked which party has a better plan for handling the war on terror, 29 per cent said Republicans while 26 per cent said Democrats, giving the Republicans a 3-point edge. Four years ago, ahead of the 2018 midterms, Republicans had a 7-point advantage over Democrats with the same question.
Under the 2020 withdrawal agreement, Trump began to sharply reduce troop levels to the point where there were only about 3,500 left in Afghanistan — from a onetime peak of 100,000 at the war’s zenith — by the time Biden took office in January.
Like Trump, Biden had promised to end the war.
But his administration miscalculated the strength of the US-trained Afghan military, which quickly surrendered large swaths of the country to the Taliban in the weeks leading up to Biden’s self-imposed August 31 deadline for the US withdrawal.
The 20-year conflict cost the lives of more than 2,400 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans. It may have cost as much as US$2 trillion.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,003 adults, including 465 Democrats and 354 Republicans. The results have a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 4 percentage points. — Reuters