Gen. Joseph Dunford, the 58-year-old commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan for the past 16 months, has been chosen by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to become the next commandant of the Marine Corps, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The officials said there was no official timeline for when Dunford would leave Afghanistan to prepare for confirmation hearings in the Senate but he was expected to return to Washington in July or early August.

There was also no immediate word on Dunford's replacement in the Afghanistan command to oversee the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces by end of this year. The U.S. is preparing for the transition to a post-2014 presence of 9,800 U.S. troops who would be mostly in a training and advisory role through 2016.

On Wednesday, Dunford backed Obama's plan to cut the 9,800 troops in half by the end of 2015 and have all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016 with the exception of embassy security in Kabul.

"I believe that this decision was good news for the Afghan people," Dunford said. "It eliminates the uncertainty about the future here in Afghanistan, in the region and within the coalition."

Dunford's selection as commandant by Hagel will now have to be approved by President Obama to begin the nomination process before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Dunford, who previously has served as assistant commandant, would replace Gen. James Amos as the top Marine. Amos was expected to retire in the fall.

At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Dunford's selection was confirmed by Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. 

"He's done a tremendous job in Afghanistan," Warren said of Dunford.

Dunford, of Quincy, Mass., picked up the nickname "Fighting Joe" while leading the 5th Marine Regiment in Iraq in 2003. He is a graduate of St. Michael's College and holds a Master of Arts degree from Georgetown University. He was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1977.

In October of 2012, President Obama nominated Dunford to succeed Marine Gen. John Allen as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and Dunford assumed command in February of 2013.

Dunford's awards include the Defense Superior Service medal with one oak leaf cluster and the Legion of Merit with combat "V" device.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.