Our papers carried reports yesterday heralding the apparent decline of the Taliban in Kandahar province. They even had a local leader attesting that Taliban strength this year is substantially weaker than it was last year. Hooray, we're winning!
But are we winning? Perhaps if the insurgency was committed to making its stand - do or die - in Kandahar we might be. But there's no sign of that. In neighbouring provinces the Brits and Dutch have been in fierce battles with the Taliban and there are signs of major unrest building in the tribal regions along the Afghan/Pakistan border.
What if Kandahar just hasn't made its way to the top of the Taliban priority list? What if this is merely a temporary lull?
How do we know if we're really winning or at least making real progress? Maybe when the insurgents begin surrendering in droves we'll know. Maybe when their bases in Waziristan are wiped out we'll know. Maybe when Helmand and Urzugan are tamed we'll know. Maybe when we can stop bombing the snot out of the civilian population we'll know. Maybe when the Afghan army is able to field a competent, capable force we'll know. Maybe when corruption is purged from the Afghan police we'll know. Maybe when there's a viable, legitimate economy we'll know. Maybe, just maybe, when there's a legitimate, effective and honest central government in Kabul we'll know.
There'll be all sorts of signs of victory when, if that day comes. Until then it's all just navel gazing - casting bones and reading entrails.