OTTAWA — US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday a poll showing a big drop in public support for the war in Afghanistan would not alter Washington’s strategy, or efforts to battle Al-Qaeda.
“We cannot fight wars by polls — if we do that, we’re in deep trouble. We have to operate based on what we believe is the best strategy to achieve the mission that we have embarked on,” Panetta told reporters.
He said the objective of the United States and NATO was “to safeguard a country by ensuring that the Taliban and Al Qaeda never again find a safe haven in Afghanistan,” he explained, recalling the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“We’ve been through 10 years of war in the United States and there’s no question that the American people are tired of war, just as the Afghans are tired of war, and yet I think the American people understand why we’re engaged in Afghanistan,” he added.
A New York Times/CBS poll published Monday showed support for the war in Afghanistan had dropped sharply among Americans: 69 percent of those polled thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan, from 53 percent four months ago.
Recent setbacks include violence set off by the burning last month of Korans by American troops and the alleged killing of 17 Afghan civilians by a US soldier, as well as killings of American troops by their Afghan partners.
Those incidents perhaps fueled the opinions of 68 percent of respondents who thought the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” compared to 42 percent who said they had that impression in November.
Panetta spoke in Ottawa after meeting with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts on strengthening security ties, including anti-drug efforts, disaster relief and humanitarian aid.