Two decades since 9/11, just 5% of Brits say we are winning the war on terror

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
September 09, 2021, 10:01 AM UTC

While most people believe it was wrong to invade Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, approaching half of Britons believe it’s important the West wins the ‘war on terror’

The 9/11 attacks prompted then US president George W. Bush to announce a “war on terror” in 2001. Two decades later – and eight years after former president Obama claimed it was over – three in five Britons (59%) believe the war on terror is still ongoing – and few think we are winning.

This includes approaching half of the public (46%) who say it’s important that the West win such a war, while another one in seven people (13%) believe it exists but don’t see it as vital that the West wins.

But only one in twenty Britons (5%) feel confident that Britain and America are currently winning the war on terror – down from 13% in 2011. In contrast, the latest poll – conducted amidst the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan – finds three in ten people (31%) are convinced that we are losing, which is significantly higher than 10 years ago (11%) and 15 years ago (22%).

While many Britons believe it’s important that the West wins the war on terror, the public say the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11 was the wrong decision. Half of Britons (52%) say the US and its allies were wrong to invade Iraq, while only one quarter (26%) believe it was the right move.

Britons are slightly less likely to say the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake, although it is still the prevailing view among the public. Over two fifths (45%) say it was the wrong decision, while a third (32%) believe it was right.

Conservative voters are less sceptical of the decisions than Labour supporters. They are tied on the decision to invade Afghanistan, with 42% believing it was right and 39% saying it was wrong. When it comes to Iraq, they tend to agree that it was the wrong decision (47%) rather than the right move (33%).

In contrast, a majority of Labour voters (55%) say it was wrong to invade Afghanistan, while only a quarter believe it was right (26%). Similarly, two thirds believe invading Iraq was a mistake vs 19% who don’t.

Should Britain’s armed forces still be geared to fight the war on terror?

With the armed forces now fully out of Afghanistan, should British defence policy maintain its focus on counter-insurgency, or should we once again see other countries as our primary threats?

The largest number of Britons (40%) see both as equally important, for the time being. But those who emphasise one strategy more than the other come down much more on the side of being prepared to fight wars against terror groups like ISIS (26%) than being ready for a potential war against nations like Russia and China (2%).  One in seven people (14%) say the UK’s defence strategy should be focused on neither.

See the full results here