LONDON - Britons remain opposed to the war in Afghanistan but the level of opposition has not risen much over the past three years despite a rapidly rising death toll, a poll for the BBC showed Wednesday.
Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they were against British military operations in Afghanistan, while 37 percent supported them, the ICM poll found. The same poll three years ago found 53 percent opposition and 31 percent support.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, trailing in opinion polls with an election only months away, has faced increased criticism over the rising death toll in the conflict, where barely a day goes by without another British soldier killed.
The war is regarded as a factor likely to sway Britons who appear ready to vote Brown's Labor out of office and return the center-right Conservatives to power for the first time since 1997. An election is due by June 2010.
Critics of the Labor government say the 9,000 troops serving in Afghanistan lack adequate equipment and that support for injured servicemen also needs to be improved.
The Conservatives, traditionally a party hawkish on defense, have promised to get more equipment to troops and to send more forces to help train the Afghan army, positions which are not very different from Labor policy.
The two ICM polls span the period in which Britain has faced a marked increase in violence in Helmand, the province of southern Afghanistan where the vast majority of the 9,000 troops are based.
The force was deployed to Helmand in mid-2006, when there was relatively little Taliban violence. Between the start of the war in 2001 and the end of 2005, Britain had lost just five soldiers. But since 2006, a further 215 have died.
The polls suggest that even though there is a great deal of debate about the war in the media, and pictures of returning dead soldiers are frequently shown on television, the conflict itself is not having as great an impact on voters as thought.
However, other polls in recent months have shown a steady fall in support for the war, with increasing numbers opposed.
As well as 53 percent opposition in the ICM poll conducted in 2006, there were also more Don't Knows three years ago.
Britain is under pressure to send more troops to Afghanistan to support the U.S. and NATO-led campaign, with the U.S. commander on the ground believing that more than the current 100,000 foreign troops are needed to defeat the Taliban.
Most European NATO members are reluctant to send more troops until a new strategy in the war is adopted. President Barack Obama is in the process of drawing up a revised strategy for the conflict in coordination with military and policy advisers.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)