KABUL — Most people in two key Afghan provinces that are witnessing the fiercest fighting between foreign forces and the Taliban have not heard of the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to a new survey.
Research conducted in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar last month suggested 92 percent of the 1,000 respondents were unaware of the attacks on Washington and New York that prompted the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
The findings, published late Friday by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) think tank, come as NATO leaders met in Lisbon to determine the transition of responsibility for security to Afghan forces.
But ICOS suggested that even after nine years of conflict, with military and civilian casualties at their highest, NATO still needs to do more to convince ordinary Afghans that their presence in the country is beneficial.
"We need to explain to the Afghan people why we are here and both show and convince them that their future is better with us than with the Taliban," ICOS president Norine MacDonald said in a statement.
A total of 42 percent of a further 500 men questioned in northern Parwan and Panjshir provinces were unable to name positive aspects of democracy.
The survey suggested that 40 percent of respondents in the south believe foreign troops are intent on destroying Islam or want to occupy or destroy the country.
A majority (61 percent) in Helmand and Kandahar were also pessimistic about the ability of the Afghan police and military to provide security after the transition.
And 81 percent said they believed Al-Qaeda -- which claimed responsibility for 9/11 from Afghanistan under Taliban protection -- would return if the militants regained power and would use Afghanistan to attack the West.
MacDonald said grassroots support was "critical" to the handover of powers.
"The international community must build an effective strategic collaboration with the local population that supports the military operation if we are to achieve a successful transition," she added.
"This would not only reformulate the security landscape but respects the sacrifices that Afghan people are making in the war."