Public support for the Taliban hit an all-time high in Afghanistan's Kandahar province last spring just as the United States was preparing to deploy the first wave of military reinforcements, polling data compiled by the Canadian military suggests.


Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is pictured speaking at the Independent Election Commission in Kabul on April 1, has in recent days threatened to join the Taliban if foreigners continue to meddle in Afghanistan's affairs. ((Ahmad Masood/Reuters))

The data, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws, provide a look at the disenchantment of ordinary Afghans, and perhaps illustrate the method behind the madness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent anti-West rants.

The survey, conducted as part of the military's spring 2009 campaign assessment, illustrates just how much resistance there was even a year ago to the growing U.S. troop buildup in Kandahar.

"International economic assistance is heavily preferred over military assistance," the report said of Afghan public opinion.

A startling 25 per cent of those asked said they had a favourable view of the Taliban, including six per cent with a "very favourable" opinion.

The poll was conducted in most major provincial districts, but the military did not release details about the sample size or methodology. The army has been conducting regular surveys of the Afghan population since 2007.

A human rights group said the sentiments captured in the poll are still present today and cast doubt on whether Karzai will get unanimous public support in Kandahar for NATO's forthcoming offensive.

On Sunday, the president said the sweep would not proceed if locals didn't want it.

In remarks to Afghan parliamentarians last week, Karzai accused the U.S. and other western governments of wanting a "puppet government" in Afghanistan and alleged they engineered widespread fraud during last fall's corrupt national elections.

He later dropped another bombshell, telling a number of Afghan members of parliament that if foreigners continued to meddle in Afghanistan, he'd be forced "to join the Taliban."

On Tuesday, the White House said it would consider cancelling Karzai's scheduled May 12 visit next month if his remarks continue to be troubling.

One of the survey's most important findings was the growing mistrust of NATO troops, where a full one-third said they had an unfavourable impression of foreign soldiers.

"The Taliban [is] not winning public consent," said the study.

"Afghans still strongly prefer the [government of Afghanistan], but confidence is waning due to lack of security, justice, basic services."

The report's analysis focused on the tide of rising violence that followed the spectacular attack on Sarpoza prison in June 2008, a seminal event that ground commanders hoped would only dent public confidence.

As it turned out, the perception of insecurity it created was long-standing and the numbers did not "bounce back" as expected, the survey noted.

"Fewer Kandaharis report feeling safe than in previous polls; more believe that security is worsening than improving," said the study, carried out in February 2009.