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Robert Gates Says He'll Leave Pentagon by End of 2011

Robert Gates
Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the new START Treaty. AP

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that he may leave his job possibly as early as January but certainly by the end of 2011, Foreign Policy Magazine reports.

"It would be a mistake to wait until January 2012," Gates said in an interview. "This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year."

Gates assumed his role as Defense Secretary in December 2006 and is the only defense secretary to serve both a Republican and Democratic president.

"I worried a lot about the baton getting dropped in the changeover between administrations," Gates told Foreign Policy. "And so I knew if the president, whoever was elected president, asked me to stay that I would say, 'Yes.' Now, you know, the timing was always sort of vague in my mind: six months, a year, just to provide a smooth transition and so on -- [it] ended up being longer than that."

It was no secret during the end of the Bush administration that Gates was ready to return to private life, but President-elect Obama asked him to stay on.

"As far as I'm concerned, all I will say is that I'm going to be here longer than either I or others thought," Gates said at an Aug. 9 press conference, CBS News Producer Mary Walsh reports.

Gates told Foreign Policy that by next year, the United States will be a position to know whether its strategy in Afghanistan is working.

"We'll have completed the surge. We'll have done the assessment in December. And it seems like somewhere there in 2011 is a logical opportunity to hand off," he said.

Gates added that if there are no concrete signs of progress with the surge by the end of the year, he will recommend to the president a change of course.

"We're just not going to plunge ahead with exactly the same strategy if it's clear it's not working," he said.

The defense secretary added that he thinks Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, should be able to demonstrate progress there by December.

"This is a very hard fight. We're going to lose a lot of kids. But the Afghans are losing a lot of kids, too. They are in this fight. It's not just us fighting it for them," he said. "And, I, you know, I, not surprisingly, take issue with some of the descriptions that we don't have a clear strategy and so on. I think the strategy is quite clear, and it is to stabilize Afghanistan and build up their internal capacity so that they can prevent the Taliban and al Qaeda from coming back. We don't need to turn it into a modern nation-state or anything else."

White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters today it's not a surprise that Gates may be talking about retiring.

"He did the president and the nation a great favor by agreeing to stay on longer than he had orginally intended, when the president started his administration," Burton said. "The president is greatly thankful for that service."

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