An American friend from the Middle East who has recently spent time covering the war in Afghanistan had the same question I did upon reading this article in the New York Times: "How can my colleagues not understand that COIN involves killing?"
First off, I note this article was not written by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, both of whom have reported extensively on U.S. special operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for the New York Times and who are writing a book together on the subject. Second, direct-action special operations played an integral and well-documented role in U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Iraq during the Baghdad security operations of 2007. They are most effective, in fact, when incorporated into a larger operational framework such as counterinsurgency. I wrote a short piece on the false dichotomy between "COIN" and "CT" for this blog's responsible cousins at the Small Wars Journal last year. Click here (.pdf) to read it. Because I was shaking my head as vigorously as anyone else as I read that article this past weekend.
Update: This Doonesbury cartoon does a nice job of illustrating the balance between the kinetic and non-kinetic.