US defence chief Robert Gates urges Afghan war patience
Making any change to the current Nato-led military campaign in Afghanistan would be "premature", US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned.
During a visit to Kabul, Mr Gates said the operations against the Taliban had been effective over the past year, with notable gains achieved in the south.
If the strategy was maintained at least until the end of 2011, then "we can say we've turned the corner", he said.
It could also create an "opening" for negotiations with the Taliban.
"I believe that if we can hold on to the territory that has been recaptured from the Taliban... and perhaps expand that security, then we will be in position toward the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening to reconciliation" with the militants, Mr Gates said.
He added: "Or at least (we could) be in a position where we can say we've turned the corner here in Afghanistan. Making any changes prior to that time would be premature."
Mr Gates' comments highlight his concern that any large cuts of US forces in Afghanistan this year could jeopardise military gains in the country, experts say.
A decision on troop reduction is expected within weeks.
After talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr Gates - who is making his last visit to Afghanistan before retiring later this month - also urged Kabul to take more responsibility for the country's security before a planned withdrawal of all US and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
The US defence chief also expressed his "regret" over recent civilian deaths caused by Nato-led air strikes.