OSLO - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday there would be no precipitous drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and cautioned that U.S. troops could still be there for years to come.

Obama told Americans in a televised speech last week that U.S. troops would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan on July 2011 as they transferred control to newly trained Afghan security forces.

Obama, in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, shied away from repeating the word withdraw and said July 2011 would signal a shift in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, when we are beginning to transfer responsibility to the Afghan people.

There has been debate in Washington over Obama's commitment to the July 2011 withdrawal date after top administration officials testifying before the U.S. Congress suggested it was flexible.

I have been unambiguous about this, so there should not be a debate. Starting in July 2011 we will begin that transition, that transfer of responsibility, Obama said.

He said the pace of the transfer of authority and the slope of the drawdown of troops would depend on conditions.

It is very important to understand we are not going to see some sharp cliff, some precipitous drawdown, Obama said at a news conference.

Obama is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to buy time to train Afghan security forces so that they can take over control and pave the way for U.S. forces to withdraw.

He also made clear that the U.S. military could have a presence in the region indefinitely.

It is also important to understand that several years after U.S. combat troops have been drastically reduced in the region ... the Afghan government is still going to need support for those security forces.
We are still going to have an interest in partnering with Afghans and Pakistanis and others in dealing with the remnants of terrorist activity, he said.

(Reporting by Ross Colvin)