From NBC's Libby Leist
In his Q and A with Sen. Levin, Secretary Gates said the July 2011 date for beginning withdrawal of U.S. troops is NOT conditions-based.
GATES: July 2011 is when we expect the transition process to begin.
LEVIN: Is that date conditions based or not?
GATES: No sir.
There was also a tense exchange between Gates and Sen. McCain, who was pressing the Defense secretary about the July 2011 date for beginning withdrawal.
McCain asked Gates whether the withdrawal will begin regardless of conditions on the ground, what McCain calls an "arbitrary date."
Gates said July 2011 will be the "beginning of a process not the end of that process" and there will be a review in Dec 2010 about "whether we will be able to meet that objective" of beginning troop withdrawal.
McCain pressed Gates on the need for the administration to make clear to the American public what exactly will happen in July 2011.