There seems to be a theory making the rounds in Washington that some how counterinsurgency wars like the one we are fighting in Afghanistan do not require military victory - and in fact military victory as traditionally defined is not possible. At best this notion is a straw man constructed to give cover to government leaders unwilling to do what is necessary to win an ugly, brutal war they say is necessary.
The U.S. Army's experience in the Philippines at the beginning of the 20th century is instructive. After fits and starts the Army adapted to the guerilla's tactics and beat them. It was a brutal, bloody campaign, but the leaders never lost sight of the reality that for a political solution to work the guerillas had to first be defeated. Similarly, the recent military victory of the Sri Lankan government over the Tamil Tigers should be studied very closely by the U.S. More broadly, the British Empire f the 18th, 19th and 20th century was often effective at using soldier-diplomats to impose military solutions that led to political stability.
Recent news reports suggest a deep divide between military and diplomatic leaders concerning Afghanistan that will not help a military or political victory. The Obama administration seems to be calculating it must do enough not to lose and not allow the military to suffer too may casualties before they are eventually pulled out and some sort of "victory" is declared. While everyone agrees there will be no formal signing of a peace treaty with al-Qaeda or the Taliban that does not mean military victory cannot be achieved on the battlefield and should be pursued with all means necessary.
The Afghan people in the cities and in the remote villages in the mountains are doing their own calculus and are trying to decide if it makes more sense to help the Americans who have promised to begin pulling out in a year or side with the Taliban who have vowed to fight until they drive the Americans out of the country. A timeline is no way to win the confidence, trust and active support of the villagers.
An aggressive, sustained offensive with sensible rules of engagement can push the relatively poorly equipped, trained and led enemy to exhaustion. This would be greatly aided if Pakistan will do its part, but if not President Obama may have to convince Pakistan it has no choice, but to let the U.S. military do what must be done regardless of how politically unpopular it would be. With concrete victories on the ground the Afghan hearts and minds will follow.