Obama had wanted to give Allen, who relinquished command in Kabul this month, the military’s most prestigious overseas assignment — supreme allied commander in Europe. But on Tuesday morning, Allen announced that he planned to retire from the military because his wife is seriously ill.
The decision deprives the president of a four-star general with whom he had built a close wartime relationship and forces the White House to find a new candidate to oversee U.S. and NATO operations in Europe.
“I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps,” the president said in a statement after meeting with the general at the White House.
In an interview Monday evening, Allen said he wants to focus on helping his wife, Kathy, cope with a combination of chronic health issues, which include an autoimmune disorder.
“Right now, I’ve just got to get her well,” Allen said. “It’s time to take care of my family.”
In Afghanistan, Allen oversaw the strategic shift from troop-
intensive counterinsurgency operations to the development of local security forces. As he orchestrated that change, he managed the removal of 33,000 U.S. troops from the country and the response to a spate of attacks on coalition personnel by members of the Afghan security forces.
Allen, who relinquished command of the war nine days ago, said his decision was not influenced by a Pentagon investigation into e-mail messages he exchanged with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who was involved in the scandal that prompted Petraeus to resign as CIA director last year. Allen was cleared of wrongdoing last month after investigators combed through the messages.
Although senior Defense Department officials described the content of some of the missives as racy and flirtatious, the Pentagon’s inspector general determined that Allen had not violated military prohibitions against conduct unbecoming an officer. Allen’s allies have described the investigation as overblown, arguing that his e-mails to Kelley, which included words such as “sweetheart,” reflected nothing more than friendship.
The messages were uncovered during an FBI investigation into a set of harassing e-mails Kelley had received. The bureau eventually determined that those messages had been sent by Petraeus’s biographer, Paula Broadwell, and that Petraeus and Broadwell were having an affair.