Other experts believe political pressure might hasten lower troop levels much sooner.
Dunford and President Barack Obama will face stiff opposition from a Congress eager to bring combat troops home, says Bensahel.
"I suspect it will be a relatively steep drawdown through 2013, and see a force more like a post-drawdown 2014," she says.
PASSING THE TORCH
Allied forces started turning over security control of 87 percent of the country, according to an ISAF release on New Year's Eve. Allen congratulated Afghan President Hamid Karzai for accomplishing this, the fourth of five steps in the country's security transition.
"President Karzai's announcement of the fourth group of provinces to enter Transition is another historic step for Afghanistan as it gets closer to taking full responsibility for security of the entire country," Allen said in the Dec. 31 statement.
These five steps, or tranches, follow a process established at the Lisbon Summit in 2010 to turn over specific regions of the country to Afghan control. ISAF maintains these do not adhere to a specific timeline, but are based upon "operational, political, and economic considerations" from allied and Afghan assessments.
This transition began on March 22, 2011 for Kabul and two other regions in the eastern portion of the country. Karzai announced Tranche 2 in November 2011, followed by Tranche 3 in May 2012.
But this does not necessarily usher in an end to the fighting.
"If you forecast out...what you have to anticipate is an ongoing war," says O'Hanlon. "The idea that we've broken the back of the insurgency is unrealistic."