WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to stay in his post for at least another year, his press secretary said on Thursday.
In a meeting before Christmas, Gates promised President Barack Obama to remain on the job through 2010, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement.
Gates, a former CIA director, has forged an influential role in Obama’s administration and helped shape the president’s decision to surge 30,000 troops into Afghanistan.
A Republican who served in the same post under George W. Bush’s presidency, Gates had shown no sign he was preparing to leave.
But when he was first named to Obama’s cabinet, officials had suggested he might serve for a short time to ensure a smooth transition in wartime.
“They agreed to revisit this issue again later this year, but for all intents and purposes their original agreement still stands: he serves at the pleasure of the president indefinitely,” Morrell said.
But Gates “certainly looks forward to one day retiring to his family home in the Pacific Northwest.”
Gates, 66, started as a CIA analyst in the 1960s and rose up through the ranks to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also served as a senior adviser to presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as the Soviet empire crumbled.
As deputy director of national intelligence at the spy agency in the 1980s, Gates was deeply involved in the US effort to funnel arms to Afghan mujahideen who eventually forced Soviet forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Now some of those same Afghan fighters are aligned against US forces overseen by Gates.
He is widely portrayed as a seasoned pragmatist, but at the close of the Cold War he was accused of taking a hawkish view and missing signs of the Soviet Union’s imminent collapse.
When the elder Bush nominated him to lead the CIA in 1991, he faced tough questioning at congressional hearings over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration.
After leaving government and eventually serving as president of Texas A&M University, Gates was asked by George W. Bush in 2006 to take over the Defense Department after the tumultuous leadership of Donald Rumsfeld.
Gates oversaw the surge of additional US troops into Iraq in 2007, which has been credited in Washington with helping to reduce violence in the country and pave the way for a gradual US withdrawal.