When a nation is involved in something as important as a war, it is more than worthwhile for its leaders to step back from day-to-day concerns and evaluate strategy.

That is exactly what President Obama and his top advisers did last Thursday, in their “Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review.”

Details of the conference, attended by the president, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other aides and advisers, are secret.

But a five-page unclassified overview of the discussion says that the United States and its allies have disrupted al-Qaida’s operations and halted the expansion of Taliban enclaves in southern Afghanistan since the “surge” of U.S. forces was fully implemented earlier this year.

While those are useful accomplishments, they do not affect the most important aspects of the anti-insurgent effort in Southwest Asia.

The first of those is that the neighboring nation of Pakistan remains at best a half-hearted ally in the struggle against extremist Islamic terrorism. At worst, many parts of that country continue to offer shelter, assistance and information to al-Qaida and Taliban networks that routinely conduct attacks across the border.

Relations with Pakistan continue to be challenging, with much of the nation generally sympathetic to the insurgents’ cause.

Second, corruption in the Afghan government continues to raise obstacles to gaining the trust of regional and local leaders and the people under their authority. While efforts to convert farmers from a near-universal dependence on opium continue, it is estimated the process will take years.

All of this has led to a backing off from Obama’s original pledge to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, a promise that now has been made conditional on “further progress.”

With polls showing public support for the Afghan war declining, the administration needs to demonstrate progress toward a clearly stated set of objectives. Without that, there may come a time soon when no arguments will succeed in forestalling public demand for an end to operations there.

And that could have untold negative consequences on the overall counterterrorism effort worldwide.