Gates: Chances of Negotiated Settlement With Taliban ‘Probably Good’

BY Larisa Epatko  June 23, 2011 at 5:50 PM EDT

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the realistic chances of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban to end the Afghan war “are probably good,” he told Jim Lehrer in an interview airing on Thursday’s NewsHour.

“I think we have to keep the pressure on the Taliban,” he said. “I think the death of (Osama) bin Laden is a potential help in this respect. There was a personal relationship between bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban.”

One of the demands of the Afghan government and coalition mission is that the Taliban sever its ties with al-Qaida, said Gates.

As for the troop drawdown, the secretary said he “became a strong advocate” of the plan to withdraw the “surge” troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer after hearing all sides of the debate during President Obama’s decision-making process.

On Wednesday, President Obama announced his plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and an additional 23,000 troops by the end of summer 2012.

“As I listened to the debate go forward, I became a strong advocate of the end of summer as one that struck a balance between our military needs and sustainability here at home,” said Gates in Thursday’s interview.

“It’s important to remember that (reduction) will still leave some 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan,” he continued, and the size of the Afghan security forces have increased by over 100,000 during the last year.

Gates steps down on June 30 after having served under two presidents. Before becoming defense secretary, he was a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group assessing the Iraq war, and a long-time member of the intelligence community.

Gates discusses more of his four-and-a-half years as defense secretary, overseeing two wars, and the U.S. mission in Libya on Thursday’s NewsHour.