Washington: There would remain a significant number of troops in Afghanistan even after the draw down to be announced by US President Barack Obama later this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday.

"The (US) President has added something like 65,000 troops to Afghanistan since he took office. Whatever decision he makes, he will have a significant number of troops remaining in Afghanistan," Gates said.

"He announced in December of 2009 with all of our support that the draw downs would begin in July of 2011, and that the pace and the scope would be based on the conditions on the ground," the Defense Secretary said.

Gates, who is set to resign at the end of this month, argued that the US has made a lot of progress over the last 15 months on the ground in Afghanistan.

"We have basically thrown the Taliban out of their home turf of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. I think we will present the president with options and different levels of risks associated with the options and he will decide," he said.

Reiterating that the draw down must be politically credible here at home, Gates said he thinks there is a lot of room for maneuver in that framework.

Gates argued for an Iraq-type end of US combat operations in Afghanistan.

"How this ends is essentially the same way it ended in Iraq, with US playing a key role for some period of time, building up the local security forces, in one case Iraq, and in this case Afghanistan, and degrading the capability of the Taliban to the point where the Afghan forces can take care of them, and then transitioning the responsibility for security to the Afghans," he said.

Gates said that transition has already begun. "A quarter of the Afghan people, including Kabul, live under Afghan security leadership. What you will see between now and 2014 is the transition of the rest of the country over a period of time," the Defense Secretary underlined.

The Pentagon boss said as the Afghan forces get better, "we can pull back into training and partnering role and more into counter terrorism."

"So I think this transition to Afghan leadership, so that they can keep control of their own country, so that al- Qaeda can no longer find a safe haven in Afghanistan, and so the Taliban cannot forcibly overthrow the government of Afghanistan," Gates said.

"That doesn't seem that hard to me for people to understand," he argued.

Agencies