“At the request of the secretary of defense, the president has put on hold his nomination of General Allen,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “The president remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who General Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year.”
The Obama administration is in the final stages of determining its timeline for withdrawing the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is also debating how many trainers, Special Operations Forces and other military assets it will keep in the country after 2014, when the White House has pledged to end combat operations and hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan national army and police.
On Monday, Panetta told reporters that Allen had recently presented options to the Pentagon and White House for what the U.S. military presence could look like in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond. Panetta said the Obama administration is likely to decide that question in about two weeks. After that, the administration will map out the timeline for troop withdrawals through the end of 2014, again based largely on recommendations from Allen, defense officials said.
The latest twist in the scandal became public early Tuesday, as Panetta was flying here for two days of scheduled meetings with Australian officials. His staff abruptly distributed a prepared statement to reporters traveling with him on his military aircraft.
Panetta had met with the journalists a few hours beforehand for a short news conference about his trip to Asia and made brief comments about Petraeus’s resignation — “I think he took the right step” — but did not reveal that he had been told a day earlier that the FBI was also investigating Allen.
After his arrival in Perth, Panetta ignored a shouted question from a reporter about the Allen investigation as he entered a hotel for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Pentagon officials said they notified the leaders of the Senate and House armed services committees about the probe of Allen’s behavior late Monday night, a few hours before Panetta issued his statement. Panetta did not shed any light into the nature of the probe; he said Allen “is entitled to due process in this matter.”
Allen was in Washington when the Pentagon learned about the FBI investigation, the senior defense official said. He was informed of the FBI and Defense Department Inspector General probes by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey, who is in Perth along with Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, phoned Allen from Australia on Monday evening, Washington time, according to a senior U.S. military official.
Although the FBI has shared the e-mails and other documents with the Pentagon, the senior defense official would not describe them in detail or say whether they were romantic in nature.
“We are concerned about inappropriate communications,” the official said. “We are not going to speculate as to what is contained in these documents.”
Allen, 58, attended Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., before graduating from the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He is married and has two grown daughters. His wife, Kathy, appeared with him in public in March at a Senate hearing on the war in Afghanistan.
Kelley’s name surfaced in the Petraeus scandal over the weekend after U.S. officials disclosed that she contacted the FBI last summer to complain that she had received anonymous and threatening e-mails about her relationship with the CIA director.
An FBI field investigation determined that Broadwell was the sender of the e-mails. Broadwell and Petraeus later admitted to the FBI that they had engaged in an affair.
Associates of Petraeus have said he was not romantically involved with Kelley, although they acknowledged she was a close friend of Petraeus and his wife.
The senior defense official said the voluminous collection of e-mails sent between Allen and Kelley occurred between 2010 and this year. The official did not give details and declined to say whether Allen sent or received any of the messages from his military or government e-mail accounts, or whether classified material was compromised.
Carmen Romero, a NATO spokeswoman, said leaders of the military alliance were notified by the U.S. government about the investigation into Allen but that they declined to comment on the case or on whether the general should remain in command of coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Chandrasekaran reported from Washington. William Branigin contributed to this report.