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Gates, Petraeus Differ on Flexibility of Afghan Exit

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told a major U.S. newspaper the July 2011 date to start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan is set in stone, putting him at odds with his top Afghan war commander, General David Petraeus.

While both men agree on the need for a gradual withdrawal, they do not agree on the flexibility of the start date given last year by President Barack Obama.

Gates told the Los Angeles Times in Monday's edition "there is no question in anybody's mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011."

However, Petraeus had said in a televised interview Sunday on NBC Meet the Press that troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 depends on the level of security achieved in Afghanistan.

Petraeus said he will give the president his best professional military advice and will not hesitate to tell him if the date is unrealistic. He said the fight against the Taliban is an "up and down process."

General Petraeus is expected to give the U.S. Congress an assessment of the war's progress in December.

According to the website, the total number of foreign troops killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 has topped 2,000, including 1,226 Americans.

Civilians deaths have also been on the rise. In a report issued last week, the United Nations said the number of civilians killed or wounded in the conflict rose 31 percent during the first half of this year; those figures include nearly 1,300 deaths and 2,000 wounded.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.