Washington (CNN) – The Obama administration is sounding an optimistic tone after the president's surprise visit to Afghanistan over the weekend.
Denis McDonough, chief of staff for the National Security Council, said President Obama was "energized" and added that U.S. officials saw some "very good signs of progress" in Afghanistan.
But there is one critical question: Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai up to the job of fighting corruption and dealing with governance issues?
National Security Advisor James Jones referred to Karzai as "an adequate partner," but McDonough admitted that there are "very difficult challenges that remain."
In seeking to "reverse the Taliban's momentum" and prevent Afghanistan from becoming Al-Qaeda's safe haven, the U.S. strategy is to take a "step-by-step approach" said McDonough.
Obama's meeting with Karzai follows a video phone conversation two weeks ago. Now Obama has invited the Afghan leader to Washington for continued talks on May 12.
When asked if any additional benchmarks would be set at that meeting, McDonough suggested that both sides have expectations of what has to happen next.
Last year, Obama unveiled a plan to significantly expand the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Troop levels are expected to reach 100, 000 by the end of this year.
Training Afghan forces so they can eventually handle their own security is a top priority. That would allow U.S. combat troops to hit a timetable set by Obama and begin withdrawing from the region in July 2011.