Appearing at a news conference with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gates suggested he may ask for more troops. Gates said the administration must prove quickly to the Afghan people and the U.S. public that Afghanistan is moving toward greater security.
"I talked about a sense of urgency, and I do believe we have to start to turn this around from a security standpoint over the next 12 to 18 months," Mullen said.
Mullen said the Afghan mission has been "under-resourced almost since its inception."
Senior Obama advisers are divided on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan for combat duty, The New York Times reported Thursday. One official said a "healthy debate" was under way on priorities in Afghanistan.
Officials said Vice President Joe Biden has argued an expanded U.S. presence in Afghanistan might undermine what he regards as a more critical objective -- helping Pakistan achieve stability.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to the region, is also concerned about Pakistan, the report said, but thinks sending more troops to Afghanistan is essential.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, submitted a classified report this week, which is now in President Barack Obama's hands.
Gates said the number of troops McChrystal has is less important than how he uses them. He said the general's policy of reducing civilian casualties has given the United States a greater margin of error there.