There now are 38,000 U.S. troops in the country, along with 32,000 troops from other nations. At last week's NATO meeting, 20 countries pledged additional troops, fighter jets and cargo planes for the Afghanistan elections this year.
Gates has said that the administration will not seek specific forms of help until after completion of its review. But the Pentagon has largely given up on prospects for new military commitments. Instead, Gates said the U.S. would push allied governments to send civilian expertise.
Given opposition by Europeans to military deployments, Gates said they could provide a valuable long-term contribution in the form of non-military advisors to help train Afghan officials and police and develop counter-narcotics programs.
However, even those commitments have been modest, with five countries last week offering additional police trainers, reconstruction teams and development aid.
But U.S. officials hope that if allies have a say in the strategy development, they are more likely to make commitments.
"Frankly, I hope that it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases, especially for the longer term," Gates said last week before the NATO meeting.
Perhaps the most difficult problem facing the administration strategy review is Pakistan's volatile border region. Obama has called militant havens in Pakistan's tribal areas his chief regional worry.
Under the Bush administration, U.S. strategy revolved around pressuring Pakistan to do more while striking suspected militants with missiles launched from Predator drones.
But the airstrikes, said Von Hippel, the former U.N. official, can be counterproductive, alienating residents.
"Even if they do kill some wanted terrorists, they are also used as a recruiting tool for a number of the militia-terrorist groups operating in the region," she said.
One alternative, though difficult, Von Hippel said, would be to quietly increase aid efforts, work with the Pakistanis to improve services in the tribal regions and take steps to integrate them into the government.