Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Polling
6 October 2021updated 12 Oct 2021 11:56am

Exclusive polling: majority of British voters do not think Afghanistan mission was a success

Nearly half ultimately think the government was wrong to intervene in Afghanistan in 2001.

By Freddie Hayward

Following the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August this year, nearly two-thirds of British voters believe the UK’s mission in the country was not a success.

Only 16 per cent of people think the intervention – which the then prime minister David Cameron declared a “mission accomplished” in 2013 – was a success, with 63 per cent saying it was not, and 21 per cent saying they were unsure, according to exclusive polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for the New Statesman.

The UK had a military presence in Afghanistan for 20 years after joining the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001.

As Joe Biden withdrew US troops from the country, Boris Johnson said it would be unsustainable for the UK to remain there without a US presence – which the public seems to accept.

While only 33 per cent of people polled support Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops (with 32 per cent opposing it and 27 per cent neither supporting nor opposing), a majority (51 per cent) support the British government’s withdrawal once the Americans had taken the decision to leave.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Senior UK government officials, including the former foreign secretary Dominic Raab, were heavily criticised for their handling of the withdrawal. It was suggested that more Afghan nationals could have been evacuated if the government had been better prepared.

The government subsequently announced it would take in 20,000 Afghan refugees, with 5,000 to be relocated in the first year. Forty-four per cent of people polled agree with this initiative, with 27 per cent opposing the policy (24 per cent neither support nor oppose it).

At the same time, more than a third of voters (37 per cent) think admitting 5,000 Afghan refugees within the next year is “too many”. Twenty-eight per cent say 5,000 refugees a year is “about the right amount” with 19 per cent saying this quota is “too few” – 16 per cent say they are unsure.

Content from our partners
A sustainable solution for inhalers
Why modelling matters: its role in future healthcare challenges
Helping children be safer, smarter, happier internet explorers

total of 150,000 British service members have served in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and 457 have died. With the benefit of hindsight, nearly half of those polled (43 per cent) ultimately think the government was wrong to decide to intervene in Afghanistan in 2001 – with 29 per cent supporting the decision and 29 per cent saying they didn’t know.

[see also: Jeremy Bowen’s Diary: Where the West went wrong in Afghanistan, the ruins of Helmand, and my sharp new attire]

Topics in this article: