Tell me how this ends
WITH US MARINES IN HELMAND - During the invasion of Iraq David Petraeus, then a US major general commanding the 101st Airborne Division, turned to a reporter and said: "Tell me how this ends."
Americans are much happier when they know the narrative arc, and this is what President Barack Obama has tried to provide for Afghanistan.
Fate decreed that Gen Petraeus would be the man who in 2007 directed not a happy ending in Iraq - far too many lives were lost for it to be called that - but an end point for the US military presence after they got on top of the insurgency, leading to a dramatic fall in violence.
By decreeing that his forces will surge before starting to drawdown in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, the president has tried to tell us how this Afghan war will end.
So it is one of those ironies of politics that in his speech at West Point Military Academy on Tuesday, Mr Obama once again blamed the Bush administration for taking its eye off the Afghan ball.
But he is attempting to copy his predecessor's strategy in having a "surge" that will bring matters to a head, then a positive outcome.
Clearly the White House hopes that providing the 2011 start point for beginning a drawdown will simultaneously concentrate Afghan President Hamid Karzai's mind about the need to improve governance while fighting corruption, give US troops in the field clear direction and offer some hope that the repeated deployments required to sustain high troop levels in both Iraq and Afghanistan during the next year will eventually ease off.
It has been apparent for some time that Mr Obama would go for this strategy. Indeed back in mid-October I reported that he had resolved on a large increase in forces that could exceed 45,000.
My story was swiftly rubbished by the White House press secretary. One or two parameters did change - principally the reduction by one combat brigade of General Stanley McChrystal's troop request - but even so, people are now talking about total Nato forces rising from 90,000 now to 138,000 late next year.
If the basic shape of the announcement was clear to the president back in mid-October (and was communicated to the British government, which is how I learned of it) why did he wait all these weeks to announce it?
It would seem that the untidy results of the Afghan election and the need to reassure doubters in his party caused the delay.
Ballot rigging and expressions of dissent at home threatened the clear narrative that Mr Obama wanted to set out and has now finally done.
Certainly US commanders here seem to welcome the idea of boosting their forces and going all out to suppress the Taliban in the coming months.
They are naturally aggressive, and believe they can dominate this country, rather than allowing it to dominate them.
The lessons of this year's fighting do not yet tell us whether the American faith in boosting their forces is justified.
This summer troop numbers have gone up and so have violent attacks on the coalition - and therefore casualties.
US commanders, including Gen Petraeus himself, told us to expect heavier casualties this year, because there would be more troops in the field taking risks.
In Iraq, surging troops did work - when combined with other measures such as turning the tribes and intensive special operations - because it was able to bring security, to make Iraqis in certain key places feel safer.
Will surging here achieve the same effect or simply make more enemies?
The other key issue that must be resolved in Afghanistan is whether the Afghan security forces can be increased fast enough to consolidate the gains made in clearing operations.
Commanders from Gen McChrystal downwards are acutely aware of this and at least 5,000 additional troops are to be assigned to training those local troops.
It will not be just about numbers either - these Afghan forces will need to be of the right quality.
If not a different Iraqi model may be repeated, that of 2004-5 when coalition troops swept neighbourhoods, suffered casualties and then simply saw the insurgents return or poor Iraqi troops melt away when operations were over.
This is the real risk of Mr Obama's approach - that it attempts to force the reality of Afghanistan's insurgency into an American narrative, with its own plotline and duration.
There is no doubting the determination of troops here though to try to curb this historically unruly place to their will.
The enemy though "gets a vote" and will do his best to thwart them.
Over the coming days and weeks, intensive operation will be launched, particularly in the south of the country.
That is why I am now in the field with US troops and will send updates soon.