The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Monday he cannot say for sure whether the Afghan army will be ready to take over security from NATO forces by a 2014 deadline.
General David Petraeus said in a U.S. interview on ABC News that he is encouraged by the progress in Afghanistan since the United States deployed an additional 30,000 troops there last year. He added, however, "No commander ever is going to come out and say, 'I'm confident that we can do this.'"
His comments come as a new poll shows Afghans' confidence in the U.S. troops' ability to provide security has dropped or matched previous lows from earlier in the nine-year war.
More than half of Afghans said in the survey they believe coalition forces should leave the country by mid-2011 or earlier. Almost 30 percent of Afghans said insurgents' attacks on foreign forces are justified, compared to eight percent in 2009. And 73 percent of those polled favor a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
The opinion poll was based on interviews with nearly 1,700 adults in Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
The Washington Post, ABC News, the BBC and Germany's ARD television collaborated on the opinion poll with the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research. The margin for error in the survey is said to be 3.5 percentage points.
Afghans in two of the country's most violent provinces expressed the most confidence in the coalition forces' ability to defeat insurgents. Approval of the NATO operation in Helmand province jumped from 14 percent in 2009 to 67 percent, and people in neighboring Kandahar shared similar opinions.
Despite U.S. criticisms of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, six in 10 Afghans expressed favorable views of their president.
Other results indicated that Afghans see deterioration in their economic situation and the rights of women in the country.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is due to release a progress report on the war in Afghanistan in the coming days.
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