Counterinsurgency, commonly referred to by its military acronym, "COIN," essentially boils down to armed nation-building -- a deliberate process of empowering people and weakening guerrillas until a state-friendly balance emerges. By contrast, counterterrorism seeks the tactical annihilation of the enemy. President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy is an effort to do both, promising to dismantle and disrupt al-Qaida while leaving the expensive and time-consuming job of definitively defeating it to Islamabad and Kabul. Call it COIN-lite.
Can such an approach work?
For now, yes. But if we extend the time horizon to 5-10 years from now, the outlook is less promising. Al-Qaida and its affiliates will receive a severely damaging blow, but they won't remain disabled for long. In medical terminology, the new strategy will stop the bleeding, but it cannot contain the risks of long-term infection.