US Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed on Monday plans to leave office next year, saying he first wanted to make sure the start of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan is on track.
"I think that by next year I'll be in a position where -- you know, we're going to know whether the strategy is working in Afghanistan," Gates said in an interview with the American magazine Foreign Policy.
"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."
Gates said it would be wrong for him to wait until January 2012 to try and hand over the reins as it could be tricky to "get a good candidate" in an election year when the administration might be voted out.
Gates himself was first appointed defense secretary by former president George W. Bush and as a senior Republican figure has provided valuable political cover in President Barack Obama's Democratic administration.