U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has hailed what he calls "the last chapter" of a struggle to ensure that Afghanistan can govern itself and avoid reverting to a safe haven for terrorists.
He made those remarks at the start of his meeting Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Pentagon, as the Obama administration determines the U.S. military future in Afghanistan.
Panetta said more than 10 years of war have paved the way for Afghanistan to stand on its own.
Karzai expressed appreciation for the years of support from the U.S. and Afghanistan's other allies.
The Afghan president is scheduled to meet later Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, before joining her for a working dinner.
On Friday, Karzai will hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama. The two leaders are expected to discuss security issues, namely how many U.S. troops may be stationed in Afghanistan after the majority pull out in 2014, and under what conditions.
Current plans call for the United States to withdraw nearly all of its 68,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But that plan hinges on a number of conditions, including whether Afghan forces will be able to take over security at that time. It is also not clear what will be the role of the Americans who stay behind, if any do remain.
Some analysts believe the Taliban may be plotting a comeback and is just waiting for U.S. and other Western forces to leave.
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Lynch, one of the authors of a new book about Afghanistan and its future called Talibanistan, says plans for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan may be premature.
"I personally believe that the dynamics in Afghanistan and the dynamics in the region right now are not well-suited for a precipitous or complete withdrawal of American or Western forces," he said. "I think the Afghan national army and its security forces still need a lot of assistance -- logistical training and some operational. I think there still needs to be partnership with Afghan counterterrorist units and American and Western counterterrorist units."
Another contributor to Talibanistan, Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert with the New America foundation, sees a gloomy and dangerous future for the Afghans if the United States leaves.
"I am quite pessimistic about the Afghan government. And I don't think what we will see is the Taliban rushing with armored columns back into Kabul. But I do think that civil war in Afghanistan is a real possibility in the years after an American withdrawal, particularly if the money stops flowing the way that it did after the Soviets left," he said.
While President Karzai has often criticized U.S. actions in Afghanistan, he also has spoken about his desire for some U.S. presence to remain.