The publicly released overview document summarizing President Barack Obama's review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan touts a number of successes over the last year but concludes that "the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable." In language very similar to the assessments made for Iraq after the "surge" had begun there in 2007, the report points to positive trends but warns that "these gains remain fragile and reversible."
Over the last few weeks, administration officials had already signaled that there will be no change to U.S. strategy in the immediate future. And while Obama remains committed to honoring his promise to begin withdrawal of some U.S. forces after July 2011, the effective deadline to effect a "complete transition" has now been set for four years from now, at the end of 2014, as also agreed at the NATO summit in Lisbon.
The administration is gambling that the positive trend lines will continue and that a critical mass of successes will begin to accumulate, allowing for the U.S. and its NATO allies to hit a "high point" in terms of troop numbers by the middle of next year, and then to begin a steady process of disengagement. The metrics of these successes will include how many Taliban leaders are killed, and the quality of their replacements; how much territory is successfully cleared, held and transferred; and the degree to which Pakistan cooperates by closing down Taliban sanctuaries on its side of the border.