Gen. John Allen picks retirement over European command
Jim Michaels, USA TODAY12:13a.m. EST February 20, 2013
(Photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari, AP)
- Allen led allied troops in Afghanistan for 19 months
- Decision leaves European Command job open
- He retired to deal with health issues in his family
WASHINGTON – Marine Corps Gen. John Allen will retire from the military rather than proceed with his nomination to become the supreme commander in Europe, citing family health reasons.
Allen had recently been cleared in connection with a months-long probe that looked into allegations of improper e-mails with a Tampa socialite.
The White House made the announcement Tuesday after President Obama met with Allen, who this month stepped down after a 19-month tour as commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
A source close to Allen said his wife has been ill recently. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
"While I won't go into the details, my primary concern is for the health of my wife, who has sacrificed so much for so long," Allen said in a statement.
"For more than 35 years, my beloved Kathy has devotedly stood beside me and enabled me to serve my country," Allen said in the statement. "It is profoundly sobering to consider how much of that time I have spent away from her and our two precious daughters. It is now my turn to stand beside them, to be there for them when they need me most."
The email allegations had emerged as fallout from the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director after Petraeus admitted to having an extramarital affair.
When the Pentagon announced the probe into Allen it said his nomination to become supreme commander in Europe would be placed on hold until the investigation was complete. After Allen was cleared of all wrongdoing last month, the White House said it would proceed with the nomination.
MORE: Gen. Allen discusses MRAPs in 2007
Despite the exoneration, the probe had an impact on Allen, according to those who know him.
The investigation "took a pretty heavy toll on John, just because he's a man of such great integrity and his integrity was being questioned," Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
Allen has been praised for playing a pivotal role in Afghanistan.
"General Allen presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al-Qaeda and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country," the statement from Obama said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called him a "brilliant strategist and an exemplary Marine."
Over his career Allen earned a reputation as a commander who combined a formidable intellect with a steely resolve. He commanded infantry units and did a tour teaching in the political science department at the Naval Academy.
Allen has said he would have become an archaeologist if he hadn't ended up as a student at the Naval Academy and then a career in the Marine Corps.
Allen's role in western Iraq in 2007 helped cement his reputation as an innovative commander.
He arrived in Iraq's Anbar province steeped in the history of the role tribes played in western Iraq. Allen carefully studied the works of Gertrude Bell, who had traveled among the tribes before becoming an adviser to Sir Percy Cox, the British administrator in Mesopotamia after World War I.
In earlier interviews he said tribes were the key to defeating the insurgency and winning over the population.
"Everywhere we have seen failure … in Iraq it has generally been because we dismissed the role of the tribes and the sheiks," Allen said in a 2007 interview.
Allen's understanding of tribal dynamics allowed him to build relations with key tribal leaders and stitch together an alliance of tribes -- known as the Anbar Awakening -- that turned against al-Qaeda, creating a powerful force that would help turn the tide of war.
He similarly immersed himself in the culture and politics of Afghanistan, say those who know him. Under Allen's leadership the coalition expanded efforts to create local defense groups, providing villages with the ability to defend themselves from the Taliban.
In April 2007, Allen told USA TODAY that Marine statistics showed the armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles were dramatically safer than Humvees. That story led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to make buying MRAPs his top procurement priority as Defense secretary.
"He has shouldered the burden of command in war and now returns home to a grateful nation," Amos said in a statement. "He is loved by those who wear our cloth."