WASHINGTON -- Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged on Sunday that the U.S. State Department is in direct talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but cautioned that troop drawdowns in the decade-long war will be modest at most in 2011.
Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Gates said U.S. negotiations with the Taliban are unlikely to yield significant results before December.
"The drawdown must be politically credible here at home," Gates said, and implied that a call from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to reduce troop levels by 15,000 by the year's end may not be feasible.
"We can do anything the president tells us to do, the question is whether it is wise," Gates said.
On ABC's "This Week," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the foremost Congressional boosters of the war in Afghanistan, said that he would support a "modest" reduction in troops of 5,000 to 10,000 this year. McCain said that Gates' previous support for a "modest" drawdown informed his position.
On "Fox News Sunday," Gates also warned against making aggressive cuts to defense spending, saying the military is not a source of deficit trouble.
"The base defense budget is not part of the deficit problem," Gates told Chris Wallace. "The base defense budget, not counting the wars, is about 3 percent of GDP [gross domestic product]."
But an examination of the full scope of military spending -- not just the base defense budget -- yields a higher number: In 2010, 20 percent of the U.S. budget was devoted to "defense and security-related" operations, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.
This article was updated to include Sen. McCain's comments.