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Americans Weary After 10 Years of Afghanistan War

October 7, 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, triggered by the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. President Barack Obama inherited what is now called the nation's longest war, measured against the core years of the U.S. combat involvement in Vietnam.

Ten years after the start of the Afghanistan war, the man behind the September 11th attacks Osama bin Laden is gone, killed in Pakistan earlier this year by U.S. special forces.

But war continues, with nearly 1,800 U.S. troops killed so far. The U.S. and NATO are on course to transfer lead security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014.

In June, 2011 President Obama announced the start of a withdrawal of 33,000 troops, the surge force he sent in 2009.

"We will draw them down in a responsible way that will allow Afghanistan to defend itself and will give us the operational capacity to continue to put pressure on al-Qaida until that network is entirely defeated," said President Obama.

Americans strongly supported military action in Afghanistan 10 years ago. But they also endured the war in Iraq, which cost nearly 4,500 American lives.

Polls show that those voicing the deepest pessimism about goals in Afghanistan support an even quicker U.S. departure. A recent CBS News survey found that half of Americans don't consider the war to be a success.

Peter Brown is a pollster with the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut.

"Clearly the country is war-weary and what is interesting is that it is not just one party or the other," said Brown. "Traditionally Republicans have been more supportive of these wars but their support is dropping also."

Brian Becker is National Coordinator for the Answer Coalition, which will hold demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and other cities marking the 10th anniversary. He says the Afghan war is no longer sustainable.

"It is not only a loss of blood by Afghans and American service members but it is bleeding the country economically at a time when there are severe budget cuts and vital social programs are being shut down," said Becker.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called on Mr. Obama and Congress to accelerate an end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"[To] end the wars as soon as strategically possible, to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs," said a mayor's conference parlamentarian.

President Obama faced calls from members of his own Democratic Party, such as Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, for a re-think of his overall strategy.

"I think we have to identify achievable goals in Afghanistan, I think we have to reduce our military footprint there," said Leahy.

Democratic Senator Jim Webb made this observation to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen.

"If we or you indeed want the country to have the patience with respect to fighting a long war, it is going to be even more important to define very clearly what is the vital national interest in terms of our current operations in Afghanistan," said Webb.

Republican presidential candidates assert that Mr. Obama's Afghanistan draw down strategy is influenced by politics. But Mitt Romney and others agree that Afghans need to shoulder their own security burdens.

"They are going to have to earn and keep that freedom themselves," said Romney.

Michael O'Hanlon, with The Brookings Institution, says Americans remember that Afghanistan was where planning originated for the September 11th attacks. He says Mr. Obama found a "middle ground" where public opinion is concerned.

"Americans also have a certain element of street smarts about them, and they may decide they don't like a war but also recognize there is a certain amount of importance to gradually exiting it responsibly," said O'Hanlon.

Less than two months after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, President Obama told Americans "the tide of war is receding."

But in a report to Congress last week he said "huge challenges remain" adding "this is the beginning but not the end" of efforts to bring the conflict to a close. So far the cost of the war in Afghanistan since 2001 is estimated at more than $400 billion.