By Meghashyam Mali - 03/15/12 11:04 AM EDT
A new poll shows half of Americans calling for the United States to accelerate its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, days after a U.S. service member was alleged to have shot and killed 16 Afghan civilians.
A Gallup survey released Thursday shows 50 percent saying the United States should speed up its exit timetable, with 24 percent saying the administration should stay with the current schedule to pull forces out by the end of 2014.
The poll was conducted on March 13, days after news broke of a deadly attack on Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. army staff sergeant. The suspect reportedly left his base on Sunday, targeting and killing 16 civilians in Kandahar province.
The poll finds Democrats and independent-leading voters most in favor of an accelerated pullout. Fifty-three percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents favor the timetable being pushed forward. Only 40 percent of Republicans support a faster exit.
Thirty-eight percent of Republicans say the United States should keep troops in the country until their goals are accomplished, with 13 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of independents supporting this plan.
The incident was only the latest in a series of missteps that have heightened tensions in the country and raised questions about the U.S. mission.
Last month, the accidental burnings of Qurans at a U.S. air base sparked anti-American protests that left 6 service members and more than 30 Afghans dead.
Also, in January, video surfaced of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
Thirty-five percent surveyed in the Gallup poll said these recent incidents had led them to change their views on how long the United States should commit troops to Afghanistan. Sixty percent said the incidents had not changed their opinions.
Of those whose views had changed, 77 percent — 27 percent of all surveyed — now thought troops should be pulled out sooner, with 17 percent — 6 percent of all poll participants — saying forces should remain in Afghanistan longer.
On Wednesday, President Obama, however, reaffirmed that the United States would not depart from its current withdrawal timetable.
“I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’ll make any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have," Obama said at a Rose Garden press conference with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“We’ve already taken out 10,000 troops, and we’re slated to draw down an additional 23,000 by this summer,” Obama said. “There will be a robust coalition presence during this fighting season, and after the fighting season, in conjunction with our allies ... [we’ll discuss] how to make sure [the drawdown] doesn’t result in a steep cliff after 2014, but rather is gradual.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has backed the president on his timetable, but his fellow Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called for the United States to keep troops in the country as long as needed.
McCain said the planned drawdown "discourages our friends and encourages our enemies.”
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan to meet with local leaders and reassure them the United States will fully investigate Sunday's civilian deaths.
Panetta told troops at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan that recent incidents there have been "deeply troubling," but would not change the mission.
"We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve," Panetta said, according to AFP. "We will be tested, we will be challenged by the enemy, by ourselves and by the hell of war itself."
The Gallup poll has a 4 percent margin of error.