GATES: Well, first of all, I think we need to re-emphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011. We are beginning a transition process and a thinning of our ranks that will -- and the pace will depend on the conditions on the ground. The president has been very clear about that. And if the Taliban are waiting for the nineteenth month, I welcome that, because we will be there in the nineteenth month and we will be there with a lot of troops. So I think that --
AMANPOUR: But what is a lot of troops?
GATES: Well, first of all, I think that -- my personal opinion is that -- that drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers. And as we are successful, we'll probably accelerate. But, again, it's -- it will depend on the conditions on the ground.
AMANPOUR: Is there any way now -- between now and December, between now and next -- next summer, to deliver some high profile, real reconstruction, real sort of progress to them to make everybody know that you're serious and to change the dynamic? GATES: Well, first of all, I think we're already seeing that. We're already seeing it in Central Helmand, where security development and governance, economic returning. We are seeing it in places like Nad Ali. We're actually seeing it in places like Marjah, that has been slower and tougher than we anticipated, but it's getting better every day. And we're seeing it in gradually improving security in the area around Kandahar. It's going to take some time. It's going to be tough. We're going to take casualties. We have warned about this for months, that this summer would be very difficult for us. But I think there are tangible signs that this approach is working, this strategy is working. But the key thing to remember is the full surge isn't even all I Afghanistan yet and will not be until the end of August. So this surge over the last few months is only beginning to take effect. AMANPOUR: What I think a lot of people maybe don't get is that the Afghan people still want the American forces there. In the latest ABC poll, it shows that 68 percent of the Afghan people actually want the American forces still there.
Do you think that there has been an opportunity missed or should there be an opportunity seized by yourself, maybe by the president, to go out and speak to the American people more about -- about Afghanistan, about the strategy, about why it's important?
GATES: Well, first of all, I'm here. And I think the president has been out and has spoken about this. He talked about it in some detail at the time he nominated General Petraeus, about where we were headed.
Probably we can do more. But Secretary Clinton and I and the president and the vice president and General Jones have all been out and -- and talking about this. And -- and I think -- you know, frankly, one of the things that I find frustrating is that I think that the president's strategy is really quite clear. I hear -- I hear all the stories that say what's the strategy, what's the goal here?
I think it's quite clear. It's to -- it's to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny them control of populated areas, degrade their capabilities at the same time we're building up the Afghan security forces, so that the Afghan security forces can deny the Taliban and al Qaeda a base from which to attack the United States and the West.
AMANPOUR: All right.
GATES: It's pretty straightforward.