The cigarette glowed red as he took a drag, and the smoke rose rapidly as he exhaled. It had been a long afternoon. It had been a long war.
It was February 2010, and after months establishing a relationship, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and one of us, Stan McChrystal, were having the kind of conversation senior military commanders are supposed to have, discussing the role of the NATO-led coalition’s efforts in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. We’d spent hours alone, each laying out in detail a strategy for the conflict. While not quite my second home, the Pakistani army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi was now familiar ground, and Kayani, a colleague with whom I spoke easily. Nothing, however, could soften the blow of his message to me. “For the mission you’ve been given, you have the right strategy,” he told me. “But it won’t work, because you don’t have enough time.”
There was nothing revelatory in the general’s assessment, because like many others, I had already reluctantly concluded that it was likely correct. It may seem laughable that back in 2010, nine years after the war had begun and eight since I
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