WASHINGTON Afghanistan risks sliding into a failed state and becoming the "forgotten war" because of deteriorating international support and a growing violent insurgency, according to an independent study.
The assessment, co-chaired by retired Marine Corps general James Jones and former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering, serves as a warning to the Bush administration at a time when officials are debating how best to juggle stretched war-fighting resources.
The administration wants to re-energize anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda is regenerating. But the United States remains heavily invested in Iraq, and officials are sending strong signals that troop reductions there will slow or stop altogether this summer.
"Afghanistan stands at a crossroads," concludes the study, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. "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."
A major issue has been trying to win the war with "too few military forces and insufficient economic aid."
Among the group's nearly three dozen recommendations: increase NATO force levels and military equipment sent to Afghanistan, decouple U.S. management of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, establish a special envoy to co-ordinate all U.S. policy on Afghanistan, and champion a unified strategy among partner nations to stabilize the country in five years.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he was not familiar with the study's findings. He said more troops are needed in Afghanistan, but "certainly not ours." When asked how many more NATO troops might be needed, he said that number should be determined by ground commanders.
The Jones-Pickering assessment, scheduled for public release today, says the United States should rethink its military and economic strategy in Afghanistan, in large part because of deteriorating support among voters in NATO countries.
If international forces are pulled, the fragile Afghan government would "likely fall apart," the report warns.
While the Afghanistan study has not created the same buzz as the Iraq assessment, the centre's latest findings still are likely to wield political clout because of those involved.