I was most struck by his conclusion that counterinsurgency is being practiced well, which is encouraging, given all the chatter recently about how Petraeus had gone all CT on us. (And yes, I know that CT really is the savage heart of COIN but apparently some of youse haven't been paying attention.) Tactical intelligence also is improving, he reports, and that is more important than it may sound.
On the downside, as usual, are the performances of the Afghan and Pakistani governments. This no good. Sometimes I think we should just be done with it and cast our lot with India.
Exum's actual bottom line: "I completely agree with a CT strategy for Afghanistan. Just, you know, in 2014 -- and after setting the necessary conditions."
Meanwhile, I just caught up with this classic quote in the August issue of Army magazine, from Capt. Justin Pritchard of the 25th Infantry Division, who has been operating in Khost. I would say this is successful COIN in a nutshell:
The big breakthrough for me personally was shifting from 'I'm here to solve problems and to make it happen' to helping the Afghans solve their problems. It was a shift in mind-set, a reframing of my role and purpose. I went from hearing a report of a bomb and immediately taking action to going to the Afghan battalion commander and district governor and asking them how they wanted to handle it. You come are it almost like you are an OC [observer-controller] with combined action.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.