The Taliban Is Winning the Propaganda War

The U.S. is struggling to maintain popular support for the 10-year war in Afghanistan

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Saturday's suicide bombing was the latest in a string of militant strikes inside Kabul in recent weeks / AP

The U.S. military is bolstering the defenses around Kabul in response to a string of high-profile attacks inside the Afghan capital, but the moves may come too late to prevent a further deterioration in public support for the Obama administration's handling of the unpopular war.

The White House is in effect fighting two separate battles inside Afghanistan: one against the Taliban and its allies, which have mounted an array of bloody attacks recently inside Kabul, and one against the public perception at home that the U.S. is losing in Afghanistan and that the war is no longer worth the human and financial costs.

The challenge for the administration is that it can register gains on the battlefield but reap little if any political reward here at home. The Pentagon--backed by an array of independent military analysts--argues that the current U.S. war plan in Afghanistan is beginning to show clear signs of progress, with violence down in many parts of the country and American and Afghan forces now in control of several regions which had until recently been held by the Taliban.

But that modest good news is being drowned out inside the U.S. by the Taliban's continued ability to mount high-profile attacks against American and Western targets across Kabul. 

On Saturday, for instance, a suicide bomber rammed a heavily armored bus in downtown Kabul, killing 12 Americans in the highest one-day U.S. loss of life in months. The attack was the latest in a string of militant strikes inside well-secured Kabul in recent weeks, including an hours-long assault on the heavily-fortified U.S. embassy, raids against a Western cultural center and well-known hotel, and the assassination of the country's top peace negotiator and former president.

Many U.S. officials and outside analysts believe the strikes are important less for pure military significance and more for insurgents' success in eroding public and political support for the war in Washington and other Western capitals.

In mid-October, for instance, a CNN/ORC International poll found that U.S. support for the war had dropped to an all-time low with 58 percent of Americans arguing that Afghanistan was turning into another Vietnam. The poll found just 34 percent of the public said they support the Afghan war, while 57 percent said it was a mistake to send U.S. troops into the country after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"They're attacking the confidence of the Afghans, the confidence of the Western publics, and the confidence of Western governments and parliaments about the prospect of victory in Afghanistan," said Dave Barno, a retired three-star general who served as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and now works as a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "They're very cleverly targeting their attacks to achieve political ends. They're trying to control the narrative."  

Presented by

Yochi J. Dreazen

Yochi Dreazen is writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

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