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Afghan efforts 'faltering,' report finds

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  • Report warns Afghanistan could become a failed state
  • Second report calls Afghanistan dangerously neglected
  • U.S. State Department denies Afghanistan might become a failed state
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(CNN) -- Efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are faltering and the country could become a failed state if international troops are removed, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Afghanistan Study Group report is one of three published Wednesday, all of which sound alarm bells for Afghanistan's future if the government and society's institution's can't be shored up and if the insurgency isn't properly dealt with.

"Afghanistan stands today at a crossroads," according to a letter in the Afghanistan Study Group report from co-chairs retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering.

It says the "progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country."

The report says: "The study group believes two possible courses of action would have dire consequences -- either withdrawing forces from Afghanistan or adopting a minimal approach. If international forces are pulled from Afghanistan, the fragile Afghan government would likely fall apart, again becoming a failed state while the Taliban and other warlords would gain control of various areas and eventually fight each other."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Wednesday disputed the notion that Afghanistan could become a failed state.

"We all know what a failed state in Afghanistan looks like," McCormack said, saying that "Afghanistan was a failed state under the Taliban and al Qaeda but the international community has significantly built up the infrastructure and security in the country and will continue to do so. Afghanistan is not a failed state."

The other two reports were from the Atlantic Council of the United States and the U.S. National Defense University's Center for Technology and National Security Policy.

The Atlantic Council of the United States' report -- "Saving Afghanistan: An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action" -- says Afghanistan "remains a dangerously neglected conflict in a Washington transfixed by Iraq and by European publics indifferent at best and opposed to engagement at worst."

The National Defense University's "Winning the War: An Agricultural Pilot Plan" focuses on job creation and "five pilot programs" that would be "immediate steps toward economic growth."

Pickering and Jones say there are not enough international military forces in Afghanistan and cite "insufficient economic aid."

They describe an unclear and inconsistent strategy "to deal with a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, the opium trade and poverty."

Jones and Pickering say success in Afghanistan is "a critical national security imperative for the United States and the international community" that will demand years of focused commitment.

"Although the obstacles there remain substantial, the strategic consequences of failure in Afghanistan would be severe for long-term U.S. interests in the region and for security at home," they say.

"Allowing the Taliban to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan, as well as failure to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state, would not only undermine the development of the country, it would constitute a major victory for al Qaeda and its global efforts to spread violence and extremism."

The Jones-Pickering report's assessment says 2007 was the "deadliest for American and international troops in Afghanistan" since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion was launched after al Qaeda, harbored by the ruling Taliban, attacked the United States. Despite the fact that the Taliban was toppled, Taliban and al Qaeda links "remain close," the assessment says.

"The most immediate threat to Afghanistan comes from an anti-government insurgency that has grown considerably over the past two years," the assessment says.

"The prospect of again losing significant parts of Afghanistan to the forces of Islamic extremists has moved from the improbable to the possible. Although international support for the mission in Afghanistan remains broad, some nations believe the mission is failing," the assessment says.

The issue of "burden-sharing" among NATO countries is key, it says, because some nations are contributing more to the fighting than others and public opposition to the war is growing in some nations. The United States, Canada, Britain, Netherlands and Australia, for example, are among those doing much of the fighting, while others aren't sharing that load.

Afghans have raised concerns about the future of their country and the efforts of the NATO troops, their army, and the administration of President Hamid Karzai, it says, and the "only reasonable strategy" now is to "reinvigorate and redouble the international community's effort." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report

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