"They have failed at every one" of those objectives, Nicholson told reporters.
Nicholson also said, by way of illustrating how much things have changed in Afghanistan in recent years, that in the former Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, U.S. Marines are now complaining of boredom because there is so little fighting for them to do.
He was not arguing for further U.S. troop reductions in 2013 but observing that if Helmand is a model for Afghanistan, it may show that coalition forces can step back and give Afghan forces the lead role without sacrificing security and giving the Taliban new hope for a revival.
Col. Christopher Boyle, the operations chief on Abrams' staff in Kandahar, said the Taliban are facing financial and other pressures.
"More and more we are seeing fracturing" in Taliban leadership circles, Boyle said, with factions fighting each other for territory and resources.
Abrams did acknowledge that the Taliban will keep "coming back" until there is some sort of reconciliation with the Afghan government.
Panetta has not telegraphed his recommendations to Obama on future troop levels.
The main message of his visit to Afghanistan, possibly his last as defense secretary, was one of reassurance to Afghans that they will not be abandoned after 2014. And he made a pitch for patience among Americans tired of war.
"For the first time since 9/11, we have a chance to achieve the mission that we are embarked upon," Panetta said, alluding to the defeat of al-Qaida and the stabilization of Afghanistan. "To achieve that mission will require a continued commitment, continued perseverance, continued partnership and continued sacrifice on the part of our nations."