KABUL — More than two-thirds of Afghan men say the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is good news for their war-torn nation but opinions are split over the terror network’s future, a poll shows.
The poll results, collected from across Afghanistan, point to general approval of the US operation that shot bin Laden in neighbouring Pakistan on May 2.
The hunt for the Al-Qaeda mastermind has been a key motivation behind the US-led military presence in Afghanistan, and his death has triggered calls for a rapid withdrawal of foreign troops after nearly 10 years of war.
The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) interviewed 600 men over the past two weeks in the violent city of Kandahar, the relatively peaceful Panjshir province, Kabul University and three other locations.
It said that 68 per cent welcomed the death of bin Laden, who was sheltered along with his fellow Al-Qaeda militants by the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
“I am happy that Osama is dead as he killed Ahmad Shah Massoud,” a 19-year-old man from Panjshir told ICOS, referring to the Taliban’s main rival, who was killed in a suicide attack two days before 9/11.
However, the survey revealed some stark contrasts, with 71 per cent of interviewees in Marjah, a hotbed of Taliban fighters and drug-traders in the southern province of Helmand, describing bin Laden’s killing as bad news.
Under its 2010 “surge” policy, the United States sent 30,000 extra soldiers to Afghanistan to launch aggressive anti-Taliban offensives in the south but total troop numbers are set to fall from July this year.
“Military operations have created ‘blowback’ through negatively impacting the hearts and minds of those we interviewed in the south,” said Norine MacDonald, president and lead field researcher for ICOS.
“Overall, the results showed the death of bin Laden was well received, which means a positive step in the international community’s transition strategy.”
Opinion was divided equally on whether bin Laden’s death would mean the collapse of Al-Qaeda, which derived much of its support through his talismanic leadership.
The success of the raid by US commandos has boosted support in America for a quick end to the war, with six out of ten people telling a Gallup poll that the military had now accomplished its mission in Afghanistan.
Many observers fear the country could topple into civil war between the Taliban, the government and various warlords as foreign troops leave.
There are currently 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan but the end of 2014 has been earmarked for a handover of security to Afghan forces.
Coalition efforts to train up the Afghan army and police force to be ready to impose security across the vast and poverty-stricken nation have struggled to make progress.
However, the plan to hand over responsibility to national security forces is welcomed by most Afghans, according to ICOS survey results from 1,400 interviews that were taken before bin Laden’s death.
About 60 per cent of respondents in the south and 80 per cent in the north supported the transition process.
ICOS added that news stories such as 500 Taliban prisoners escaping from Kandahar on April 25 and the burning of a Koran by a pastor in the US had hit public confidence in the coalition’s ability to protect and respect Afghans.
Polling in Afghanistan is difficult and often dangerous, and small sample sizes mean that findings cannot be viewed as conclusive.