The White House's plan to transition out of Afghanistan in 2011 should be regarded as "a glide slope," not "a cliff," the president's national security adviser cautioned on Sunday.

Consequently, "the end of that ramp" -- the moment at which point nearly all combat troops would be removed from the war-torn state -- "will be predicated upon how much progress we're making," added retired Gen. James Jones, noting it was impossible to specify a hard deadline.

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"We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times," Jones told CNN's "State of the Union. "We're going to be in the region for a long time."

"We want this relationship to be, as we have with all struggling democracies, we want to be helpful," he added. "We want to transition from more of a purely military relationship to a civilian relationship. And we want to establish -- we want to make sure that the people in the region have an opportunity to achieve their goals and aspirations in peace and stability."

The White House has fielded strong criticism from both political camps since the president announced his strategy during a speech at West Point on Tuesday.

Republicans lament Obama's decision to specify a deadline, fearing it might convey to the world community the United States is only lukewarmly committing to the conflict. Democrats, however, see that deadline as not firm enough, and the party's more liberal members fret a lack of specificity could doom the United States to remain in Afghanistan for another eight years.

But Jones on Sunday stressed the White House believed its goals were achievable -- especially so because of the malleable time frame the president has laid out.

"The president's decision on 2011 has more to do with the transition than anything else," Jones said. "We want to see over the next two years more Afghan capacity developed, quicker."