OSLO — President Barack Obama said Thursday that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, set to start in 19 months, will be gradual and U.S. aid to that nation will last for years.
"We're not going to see some sharp cliff, some precipitous drawdown," Obama told reporters in Oslo, where he traveled to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
The president said he is sticking to his plan to start the drawdown in July 2011, but he signaled that the United States will help Afghanistan train its security forces and develop its economy for some time.
"Several years after U.S. combat troops have been drastically reduced in the region," he said, "the Afghanistan 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 activities there."
Some critics have questioned Obama's timetable because the United States is about to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Many liberals in Congress and elsewhere oppose the buildup in the first place.
Obama said there should be no confusion about his intentions.
"Starting in July 2011 we will begin that transition, that transfer of responsibility," he said.
"The pace at which that takes place, the slope of a drawdown, how it occurs tactically, those are all going to be conditions-based," he said, just as there has been "a constant monitoring of the situation" in Iraq.
Obama seemed to place more emphasis on the eventual transfer of responsibilities to Afghans than on solid timetables for bringing U.S. troops home.
"July 2011 will signal a shift in our mission," he said.
Meanwhile in Washington, the top U.S. military commander and top diplomat in Afghanistan continued the weeklong effort to explain Obama's new strategy on Capitol Hill.
In the eighth hearing since Obama announced the plan Dec. 1, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee questioned Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on lawmakers' concerns about the timeline for withdrawal, the strain new deployments put on the armed forces, corruption within the Afghan government, and insurgent safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
Some opposed the idea of putting more troops in harm's way.
With the billions of dollars that will be spent in Afghanistan, the U.S. could instead "buy the allegiance ... earn the good will" of tribal leaders and others there without putting Americans at risk, said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, called for an "immediate beginning of negotiations to end this conflict."
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington.