The United States and its allies have made dramatic progress in Afghanistan over the past year, seizing the initiative from the Taliban and driving insurgents from key strongholds in the south.
The challenge for military commanders now will be to consolidate those gains and shift the military main effort to tackle insurgent strongholds in the east — all with fewer troops.
The plan is a "compromise that will be problematic to many of the players," warned David Barno, a retired three-star general who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan and is now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security.
Several commanders in Afghanistan had said reductions should be made so as to not jeopardize gains.
"Ultimately the commanders on the ground will be able to reshape the plan" to achieve objectives, Barno said.
Much of the success against the Taliban has been attributed to a surge of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements ordered to Afghanistan last year by President Obama. An additional 3,000 U.S. servicemembers were later sent as part of the reinforcements.
Obama said Wednesday that information recovered from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan revealed that al-Qaeda is "under enormous strain." He said the terror network has been unable to replace senior leaders and failed to portray America as being at war with Islam. Al-Qaeda is on "a path to defeat" but remains dangerous, Obama said.
The president said the U.S. will start reducing forces in Afghanistan next month — drawing down 10,000 troops by the end of this year and an additional 23,000 by September 2012.
That leaves about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan — twice the number prior to 2010. In addition to U.S. troops, there are about 50,000 NATO and other forces making up the coalition.