Canadian troops are facing another challenge in Afghanistan as Taliban support among civilians has rocketed to nearly 27 per cent.

The findings stem from a large-scale survey conducted this month by Brussels-based thinktank Senlis Council. The organization polled 17,000 Afghan men in the Canadian-controlled areas of Kandahar province and in neighbouring British and U.S.-controlled regions of Helmand and Nangarhar.

Surveyors said the real figure is likely higher than the 27 per cent figure, since some respondents were probably hesitant of admitting support for the Taliban to a Westerner.

The men polled said they were disillusioned with the NATO military effort.

"Afghanis in southern Afghanistan are increasingly prepared to admit their support for the Taliban, and the belief that the government and the international community will not be able to defeat the Taliban is widespread in the southern provinces," the report concludes.

Only 19 per cent of Afghan civilians felt that international troops were helping them personally -- with only 6.5 per cent in regions where U.S. soldiers were in control.

"The widespread perception of locals is that the international community is not helping to improve their lives," says the report.

Meanwhile, about 80 per cent of civilians said they worried about feeding their families.

"The Taliban has been able to easily and effectively capitalize on this by providing protection from forced eradication [of poppy crops] and employment to many," says the report.

The Senlis Council started as a European drug-policy organization but has since become involved in Afghanistan -- arguing in favour of allowing Afghans to grow opium poppies for medical use.

Contrasting 2001 polls that showed locals believed the Taliban could be defeated, only 48 per cent of southern Afghans now think their government and NATO will be successful.

"It is clear that the Taliban are winning the propaganda war," says the report. "This victory is now having a direct effect on the war itself, through people's perceptions of who is going to win."

The study is making five recommendations:

  • Increase development spending
  • Stop forced poppy-crop eradication which, the group says, has robbed many of their only means of survival
  • Replace current counter-productive drug policies with pragmatic initiatives such as poppy for medicine projects
  • Implement pilot poppy for medicine projects at the next planting season
  • Make avoiding civilian injury a top priority in all military action