The Obama administration has made clear some troops - no one can say how many - will start withdrawing by next July from stable areas where Afghan forces can provide security.
However, questions over how to measure success and whether the almost 9-year-old war is worth the continuing U.S. investment in lives and resources are gaining prominence as congressional mid-term elections approach in November.
In interviews with military and political leaders broadcast Sunday, scenarios presented on what happens next year ranged from guarded optimism to serious concern. While most views followed expected party talking points, all appeared grounded in the common belief that success is vital even as they differed on what it would be.
On CNN's "State of the Union," Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan defended the planned troop draw-down next year as a necessary part of strategy.