WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- There will be more U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan this summer than in Iraq for the first time since 2003, a military commander told lawmakers in Washington.
U.S. President Barack Obama in a December address to the nation committed 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. About 30 percent of those troops are in place and another 18,000 are expected by late spring, the U.S. Defense Department said.
U.S. combat forces in Iraq, meanwhile, are to total fewer than 50,000 by September under the provisions outlined in a bilateral security agreement with Baghdad.
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the Afghan surge coupled with the phased withdrawal from Iraq would shift the balance of the U.S. military footprint in the region.
"Indeed, by the middle of this year, Afghanistan will surpass Iraq, for the first time since 2003, as the location with the most deployed American forces," he said.
U.S., international and Afghan forces are shifting their focus in Afghanistan to Kandahar province. A February offensive into the restive province of Helmand was meant to install a Western-friendly government in former Taliban territory.
Military planners said the Helmand offensive is in the "hold" phase of the "clear, hold and build" counterinsurgency strategy under way in Afghanistan.