The stage is set for what could potentially be one of most difficult decisions President Obama will make as commander-in-chief: whether or not to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Members of the National Security Council met Tuesday for the first of four meetings scheduled in the coming weeks to reassess the path forward in Afghanistan.
Obama, who did not attend today's session, told reporters after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Andres Rasmussem that the mission in Afghanistan was "dismantling, disrupting, [and] destroying the al Qaeda network" and the U.S. is "effectively working with the Afghan government to provide the security necessary for that country.
Whether completing that mission will necessitate more U.S. troops is now the central question receiving substantial debate - and there are no indications Obama will make a decision quickly.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- who received General Stanley McChrystal's much-anticipated request for more U.S. forces late last week -- has said he will keep the report secret "until such time as the President and his security team are ready to consider it," according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
Obama and his advisors have signaled publicly that they may seek to redefine the mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Experts say as many as 10,000 to 40,000 more troops could be required for the mission in Afghanistan, where 68,000 U.S. soldiers are already expected by year's end.
"My sense is that 20,000, 25,000 American troops is enough to start turning the tide over the course of 2010 and is probably a price the American army can bear and that Afghanistan can support," said retired Army Lt. Col. Dr. John Nagl, President of the Center for New American Security, in an interview with ABC News.
Nagl says the additional troops would help dramatically increase recruitment and training of Afghan national army and police forces and provide the ability to secure and hold Kandahar, which is the de facto capital of opposition Taliban forces.
"We've had an under-resourced counterinsurgency strategy for essentially our entire time there, and we're going to have to provide additional resources to turn the Taliban's momentum around," Nagl said.
"Failing to do so, in my eyes, gives the Taliban additional strength and makes it more likely that they're going to be able to put more pressure on the government of Afghanistan and on the government of Pakistan."
Support within Congress and the administration for such a troop surge has appeared increasingly thin, as public support for the war in Afghanistan also continues to wane, according to most polls.
Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski told ABC News that more U.S. troops in Afghanistan may only embolden the Taliban, who already paint U.S. and NATO forces as "occupiers."
"I think [more troops] will intensify the opposition to us. It's as simple as that. I think we will be viewed increasingly by a larger and larger number of Afghans not as allies in a shared cause but as alien occupiers," Brzezinski said.
"I'd like to see if we can increase the level of political involvement in local accommodations in responding to the decentralized reality in Afghanistan, and I'd like to see more of an international effort not only involving Pakistan but also China."