"I was out here 20 years ago when we were fighting the Soviets. The Soviets had 110 to 120,000 troops in this country. They did not care about civilian casualties. And they lost. At some point in this country, the size of the foreign military footprint becomes a hindrance rather than a help. Because we begin to look like occupiers to the Afghans," Gates told Couric.
"Isn't it ironic, though, that the very people the U.S. befriended and armed in the 1980s have morphed into our enemies. What lesson can be learned from that? Be careful who you cozy up to?" Couric asked.
"Or just that history is ironic," Gates replied.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas in the mountains along the Afghan border. Gates told 60 Minutes it is up to Pakistan to clear those terrorists out.
"We want to try and persuade the Pakistanis of the importance of doing this," Gates explained.
"But the Pakistani army clearly has its hands full right now, fighting the Taliban much closer to its capital. So what are you going to do about these safe havens?" Couric asked.
"We'll just have to keep working with the Pakistanis. These problems aren't going to be solved overnight," he replied.
"But the Pakistan army is still focused on conventional warfare against India. And there are more terrorists per square mile in Pakistan than any place in the world. Do you think that Pakistan's army is capable of neutralizing the Taliban?" Couric asked.
"They can do this. They just need training and probably some different kinds of equipment," Gates replied.
Since 2001, America has given Pakistan's military more than a billion dollars a year. Still, parts of Pakistan's intelligence service support the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"Look, they're maintaining contact with these groups, in my view as a strategic hedge," Gates said. "They are not sure who's going to win in Afghanistan. They're not sure what's going to happen along that border area. So, to a certain extent, they play both sides."