'Premature' to eye faster pullout of Afghanistan: Gates

The US covert raid that killed Al-Qaeda's chief has fuelled calls to scale back the massive US presence in Afghanistan, just as President Barack Obama reviews plans to begin pulling out some of the 100,000 troops there in July.

Gates, in an interview broadcast on the CBS news show "60 Minutes", yesterday said it's too early to consider speeding the pace of withdrawal.

"I think it's premature," he said. "I think we just don't know. It's only been a week. And people are already drawing historical conclusions. I think that's a little quick."

Skeptics have seized on bin Laden's demise to argue that there is no reason to keep so many troops in Afghanistan in a war originally launched after the September 11 attacks to prevent Al-Qaeda from using the country as a sanctuary.

They point to military estimates that only about 200 Al-Qaeda operatives are left in the country, while a NATO-led force has swelled to more than 140,000.

Gates, who is retiring June 30 after four and a half years on the job, said bin Laden's death could be a "game changer" in the war in Afghanistan.

Gates, the only Pentagon chief to serve under presidents from both major political parties, said "we could be in a position by the end of this year, where we have turned the corner in Afghanistan."

The 67-year-old has worked for the US government for 30 years, including a stint as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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