That just happened:

The United States is helping senior Taliban leaders attend initial peace talks with the Afghan government in Kabul because military officials and diplomats want to take advantage of any possibility of political reconciliation, Obama administration and NATO officials said Thursday.

If it’s necessary to say: the fact that talks could get underway does not guarantee any outcome. There are a lot of variables at stake for each actor: what Karzai can offer the Taliban; what the Taliban can live with; what the Taliban can deliver from their fractious coalition; whether the non-Pashtuns can accept partial Taliban restoration; how to guarantee a Taliban/al-Qaeda split; what the modalities of U.S. drawdown should be. And when Burhanuddin Rabbani says, “The Taliban have not rejected peace completely,” that’s not so auspicious. But it’s better to be talking than not to be talking, clearly.

Meanwhile, Dexter Filkins has an excellent piece that gets at a certain irony. Ever since I last interviewed Gen. Petraeus in August, I’ve been struck at how he’s lately been highlighting metrics for progress that he used to avoid: insurgents dead and captured, particularly. As Filkins writes, Petraeus’ campaign has gotten way kinetic lately, “as pressure intensifies at home to bring the nine-year-old war to an end.”

It would be quite an irony if the chief counterinsurgent prosecuted a hit-em-n-quit-em campaign that helped convince the Taliban that enough is enough. How conventional!