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US studies fear Afghan decline to terrorist haven

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

Reuters) - Afghanistan risks reverting to a failed state and a haven for global terrorism without new U.S. and international efforts to win the war and deliver economic development, two studies said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan's failure would deal a strategic defeat to the U.S. fight against Islamic extremism that would destabilize neighboring Pakistan and threaten the future of NATO, the studies warned.

"Urgent changes are required now to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failing or failed state," said a report by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

"If Afghanistan fails, the possible strategic consequences will worsen regional instability, do great harm to the fight against Jihadist and religious extremism, and put in grave jeopardy NATO's future as a credible, cohesive and relevant military alliance," it said.

NATO has taken over a large part of the fight against the radical Islamic Taliban, which was ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 for giving sanctuary to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. But it has fought back strongly beginning last year.

Separately, the Afghanistan Study Group warned that "the mission to stabilize Afghanistan is faltering" amid renewed violence, rising opium production and falling Afghan confidence in their government and its international partners.

"The prospect of again losing significant parts of Afghanistan to the forces of Islamic extremists has moved from the improbable to the possible," the group said in a report produced by non-governmental experts and published by the Washington-based Center for the Study of the Presidency.


The two studies recommended the United States step up the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, get reluctant NATO allies to commit more troops, redouble efforts to spur economic development, fight the opium trade and promote judicial and other government reforms in Kabul.

The Atlantic Council urged the United Nations to name a high representative for Afghanistan. It lamented the setback to international coordination efforts when British politician Paddy Ashdown dropped his candidacy to be the U.N. "super envoy" in the face of a veto by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afghanistan Study Group co-chairman Thomas Pickering told the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee Ashdown's rejection was a "nail in the coffin" in coordination. He recommended an "eminent persons group" be launched for Afghanistan.

Pickering, a retired U.S. diplomat, said the study group supported "decoupling" the war campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and devoting equal energy to the latter fight

"Afghanistan has hovered too long under the shadow of Iraq," he said. "It has its own strategic importance."

The reports come amid discord among NATO allies over Afghanistan, where 120,000 Afghan troops back 50,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military.

Canada has threatened to pull out its 2,500 troops early next year unless NATO contributes more soldiers.

The United States has 29,000 troops in Afghanistan and earlier this month ordered another 3,200 Marines to be deployed there after conceding efforts to persuade other NATO members to send more troops had failed.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had not seen the studies, but rejected the notion of a failing state.

"We know what a failed state in Afghanistan looks like -- that was Afghanistan under the Taliban prior to October 2001. Afghanistan today does not look like that," he said. (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammad and Kristin Roberts; editing by Philip Barbara)

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