Karzai’s arrival also highlights one of the trickiest issues in the Afghanistan strategy — namely, the process of reconciliation with the Taliban that could lead to an eventual settlement. Karzai plans to hold a “peace jirga” and a Kabul conference this summer to encourage outreach. U.S. officials will probe this week about whom he plans to include in this dialogue and what the agenda will be.

If Afghanistan’s strategy for reconciliation is fuzzy, the Obama administration’s is nonexistent, at least publicly. “We don’t have a plan yet,” worries the senior military official. The White House believes that while the administration has policy outlines on reconciliation, it must leave some flexibility for Karzai. “To be durable, this has to be an Afghan plan,” stresses the senior administration official.

One big problem with framing a reconciliation strategy now is that U.S. officials want to bargain from a position of strength. “We aren’t there yet,” the senior military official says bluntly.