If I were in charge, I'd set the following four conditions for Afghanistan:
1. Secure as much of the Civilian population as humanly possible, ASAP. Keep in mind that this is the creed of classic COIN: drive a wedge in between the insurgency and the state. If you want to read some contemporary COIN wisdom that is currently being evaluated for Afghanistan, click here.
2. Secure as much of the Civilian population as humanly possible before the ELECTION. If the powers that be want any kind of democracy to last, or even just be legitimized, then they have to have this election go off with "purple fingers."
3. Agreed, Start where you are strong. Don't go charging in to Kandahar proper unless you already have a record of successes. This means that the U.S. and Co. needs to show that are worth their salt. Show that they can help--I mean prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the Afghans that you are worth it--and then it's time to talk about Kandahar.
4. The second hardest thing, over the next year, is going to be supporting our troops in Afghanistan. In fact, resupplying a unit in Afghanistan is twice as expensive than in Iraq. Can you guess? Yeah, getting stuff to our guy’s sucks. Iran, off limits. Central Asian Republics, they keep closing our bases. Pakistan, the Taliban keep blowing up our convoys. Bummer.
So all and all, COIN in Afghanistan is going to be hard. In fact, many who talk about COIN in Afghanistan are not your traditional COIN-inistia's. They are politicals', and other idealists who do not understand the true task at hand. But nevertheless, rumor has it that the Americans are going try and turn Afghanistan into COINistan. It will be quite the battle.
(And P.S.--the U.S just invited Iran to talk about Afghanistan at the same table!!!!)