The precise definition of "win," however, is difficult to capture. Gates offered that winning in Afghanistan is "reversing the momentum of the Taliban - denying them control of territory, population."
With 34 provinces across 249,984 square miles, a corrupt government, a largely illiterate army and a variety of warlords and ethnic groups, broadly reversing Taliban momentum will be extremely challenging, especially given President Obama's 18-month deadline to begin troop withdrawals. In the interview, Gates stressed the importance of Afghanistan accelerating the training of their army and police force.
"It's important to give them a sense of urgency in terms of building the numbers and the capacity of their own security forces so we can begin to transfer these responsibilities."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also has a timeline for reversing Taliban momemtum. He wants the Afghan army and police forces to assume security control in some parts of the country in two years, and the entire country within five years.
"We as Afghans will try our very best to reach that goal, and we hope our allies will back us to reach that goal," Karzai said. The Afghan president is appointing a new Cabinet this month to address some of the corruption charges leveled at his administration.
Gates also sees reconciliation with some elements of the Taliban as part of the endgame. "Certainly reconciliation is likely to be a part of this, but I think it's not likely frankly until the momentum has changed, and more senior members of the Taliban realize that they're not likely to win."
However, Gates noted that the Taliban have tapped into the financial needs of the populataion to garner loyalty. "One of the eye-openers for us was learning that the Taliban for the most part are better paid than the Afghan security forces, so that's something that we and the Afghans have already taken steps to correct," Gates said during his flight to Afghanistan this week.
In addition, the "shadow" government established by the Taliban across various parts of the country will not be easy to remove, according to an article in the Washington Post:
"U.S. military officials say that dislodging the Taliban's shadow government and establishing the authority of the Karzai administration over the next 18 months will be critical to the success of President Obama's surge strategy. But the task has been complicated by the fact that in many areas, Afghans have decided they prefer the severe but decisive authority of the Taliban to the corruption and inefficiency of Karzai's appointees."
Now the pressure is on the U.S. troop surge and Karzai's Afghan government and military contingent to give senior members of the Taliban evidence that they should give up the fight sooner than later.