U.S. commanders are offering glowing reviews of their 2012 war campaign, upbeat assessments that could be interpreted as leeway for President Barack Obama to order another round of troop withdrawals next summer.

Obama faces a tension between calls by Democrats and even some Republicans to wind down the war more quickly and the military’s desire to avoid a too-fast pullout that might squander hard-won sacrifices.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not yet recommended to Obama a specific pace of withdrawals for 2013. But during the Pentagon chief’s two-day visit to the war zone this past week, commanders suggested that things are going better than is generally believed by an American public weary of war after 11 years.

Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, for example, cited “astounding” progress in the Zaray district of Kandahar province, where the Taliban once held sway. He said Afghan forces are now “dominating” in that district. Abrams is the top coalition commander in southern Afghanistan.