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“The fundamental value in capturing the enemy is so that you have a better grasp of the environment,” added Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata, a counterinsurgency proponent who is a contemporary of Gen. McChrystal’s and second in command at the U.S. Embassy’s military office in Pakistan.

“The more you understand the environment, the more effective your choices will be,” said Gen. Nagata, who works with the Pakistanis on their hunt for militants on their side of the border.

Sometimes, the choice is hunting the leaders, he said. Other times, it’s buying them out of the insurgent business by offering them jobs, all the while buying time for local government to fix the problems that drove them to fight in the first place. As Gen. Petraeus frequently expounds, he added, killing is only part of the equation.