A majority of Americans still support strikes by unmanned drones on enemy targets around the world, despite criticism that the attacks have taken the lives of innocent people, according to a Pew Research Center report released Thursday.
The report also found weakening confidence in the American military’s ability to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.
Although there are differences that split Americans along political lines, the Pew research found overall support for supported drone strikes, at 58 percent, up slightly from 56 percent in 2013. Of the rest, 35 percent said they don’t support drone strikes and 7 percent said they were unsure.
Numbers for how many civilians die in drone strikes are hard to come by, because the U.S. government doesn’t keep track. But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) calculates that since 2004, close to 1,000 civilians have died in drone strikes in Pakistan, more than 100 in Yemen and 50 in Somalia, where armed rebel groups have staged attacks against government and civilian targets.
Drones became a major part of President Barack Obama’s continuation of his predecessor’s campaign against armed groups in the three countries.
At least 250 of the civilian deaths in all three countries are children, according to BIJ.
A majority a respondents in the survey expressed a degree of worry about the consequences of drone strikes on civilians.
The Pew research found 48 percent said they are very concerned that U.S. drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians, while another 32 percent say they are somewhat concerned about this. About 19 percent were only slightly or not at all concerned.
Pew also gauged opinion over whether people believed the use of drones will damage America's image and if their use might prompt retaliation against the United States. Only 24 percent were “very concerned” the use of drones could hurt the U.S. image, and 31 percent said the same for fears that armed groups would strike back at Americans in retaliation for the attacks.
Although the drone campaign against armed fighters has been the work of the a Democratic president, Republicans express higher levels of support for the policy.
“Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (74%) approve of the drone attacks, compared with smaller majorities of independents (56%) and Democrats (52%),” the report states.
But the poll found that, overall, confidence in the American military’s ability to achieve its goal in Afghanistan has weakened since 2011. In the latest survey, 56 percent of American say the U.S. will be or has been successful in achieving its goals there, while just 36 percent said it had mostly failed.
They also don’t have high hopes for Afghanistan’s ability to hold up against the Taliban without U.S. support. Although combat operations ended at the end of last year, 10,000 American soldiers remain in the country, advising and training local troops.
They are set to remain there through the end of 2015, but their complete removal looms.
“Fully 68% of Americans say it is either very unlikely (35%) or somewhat unlikely (33%) that Afghanistan will be able to maintain a stable government after U.S. forces leave the country,” the report says. “About a quarter (24%) say it is somewhat likely Afghanistan will be able to maintain a stable government and just 5% say this is very likely.”