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Afghans' faith in U.S. ebbing, poll finds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghans are more pessimistic about the direction of their country, less confident in the ability of the United States and its allies to provide security and more willing to negotiate with the Taliban than they were a year ago, a poll conducted in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces showed.

But residents of two southern provinces that have been the focus of U.S. military operations over the past year say aspects of their security and living conditions have improved significantly since last December.

The poll, published on Monday, was carried out by The Washington Post, ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp and Germany’s ARD television.

It found a notable shift in public opinion in Helmand province, where U.S. Marines have been running intensive counterinsurgency operations. The number of people in Helmand describing their security as “good” shot to 67 percent from 14 percent in a December 2009 poll, the Post reported.

In Helmand and in neighboring Kandahar, the percentage of respondents reporting threatening letters from the Taliban has been cut in half.

Nationwide, more than half of Afghans interviewed said U.S. and NATO forces should start to leave the country in mid-2011 or sooner, the Post said. Compared to a year ago, more Afghans see the United States as playing a negative role in Afghanistan, and support for President Barack Obama’s troop “surge” has faded.

A year ago, 61 percent of Afghans supported the deployment of 30,000 more U.S. troops. In the new poll, 49 percent support the move, with 49 percent opposed.

After a big drop last year, more than 25 percent of respondents again say attacks against U.S. and other foreign military forces are justifiable, the Post reported.

The poll is based on in-person interviews with a random nationwide sample of 1,691 Afghan adults, conducted from October 29 to November 13 by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research in Kabul, a unit of Vienna, Virginia-based D3 Systems Inc, a market and social research contractor.

Writing by Jim Wolf, Editing by Sandra Maler