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Losing the Popularity Contest

A recent BBC article indicates that Afghan citizens may start supporting the Taliban.

Nato's commander in Afghanistan has said the country's citizens may start supporting the Taleban unless their lives improve in the next six months. Gen David Richards, a British officer, said the country was at a “tipping point”, warning that up to 70% of Afghans could switch their support.

He was speaking a day after Tony Blair pledged full support for UK troops.

There are concerns for the safety of British forces operating in the southern province of Helmand.

Gen Richards said: “They will say, ‘We do not want the Taliban but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life than [one] that might involve another five years of fighting,’”

This is a very disturbing trend. Not only would this undermine our success in liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban’s control, an objective we achieved 5 years ago, but it would also create yet another safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Safe havens allow terrorist organizations to plan and coordinate attacks as elaborate as the September 11 attacks. As the 9/11 Commission Report recommends: “The US government must identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries. For each, it should have a realistic strategy to keep possible terrorists insecure and on the run.”

There is no one answer for how the United States and its allies can win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s citizens back. It is clear that the citizens do not want to have the Taliban back in control. However, that doesn’t mean we can disregard public opinion in Afghanistan. Although it clearly isn’t this simple, the reality is that the situation in Afghanistan is a popularity contest. Citizens will support whichever side will provide the most security. The US needs to realize this and begin to make concerted efforts to re-gain the support of Afghanistan’s citizenry.