Speaking on his E-4B plane en route from Andrew Air Force Base outside Washington to New Delhi, Mr Gates said that while "reconciliation and reintegration are critical to a resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan" this was unlikely to happen until Nato forces achieved greater military success. "It's our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win that the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great." There might be a "real growth" of lower-level Taliban fighters deserting the insurgency when "they know that if they reintegrate and accept the terms of the Afghan government and they and their families can be protected". He added: "Reconciliation has to be a part of the ultimate conclusion here, just as it was in Iraq. Whether that could include Mullah Omar, I frankly question whether that's realistic." Mr Gates was responding to the announcement on Sunday of an Afghan government initiative jobs, education, security, and social benefits to Taliban followers who defect. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has offered to talk directly to Mullah Omar but has received no response. Afghan officials have recently floated the idea of removing the Taliban leader's name from the United Nations list of terrorists. This idea was given a sharp rebuff by Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. "I can't imagine what would justify such an action," he said at the weekend. Mr Gates said the 10,000 US Marines currently in Helmand outnumbering British forces were already making welcome progress and declined to say whether the US might assume military primacy in the province once the full complement of 20,000 are in place there this summer. "I don't think that the discussion have advanced that far on the command arrangement in the future. I think people are heartened by the early signs of the success of the marines in Helmand but it's early yet and I don't think anyone is prepared to go too far in talking about success down there." Mr Gates said he expected 92 per cent of the 30,000 additional troops ordered in by Mr Obama in October would be in Afghanistan by the end of August, bringing the total American force level in the country to about 90,000. (Telegraph)