Updated at 9:28 p.m.
Retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who played a crucial role in empowering Iraqi tribes against al-Qaeda in 2007 and later became the top commander in the Afghanistan war, reportedly has been selected to coordinate the new international effort to combat the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.
A U.S. government official told Checkpoint that Allen will step in as nearly 40 countries determine what roles they will play in the mission. It will include not only a military component, but also efforts to hurt the Islamic State financially and efforts to deter foreign fighters from traveling to Iraq and Syria to join the fight. Allen’s pending new assignment was first reported Thursday by the Associate Press.
Officials at the Pentagon, State Department and White House had no immediate response to the report on Thursday. If true, though, the move is likely to be greeted warmly at home and abroad. Allen is regarded in the military as a tough fighter who understands rank-and-file service members, but also has extensive experience in diplomacy and interacting with world leaders.
As a one-star commander in Iraq in 2007, he emphasized meeting with powerful Sunni sheiks in Anbar province, offering protection and financial incentives if they would reject the radical Sunnis aligned with militants. That strategy paid dividends, easing violence in what had been some of Iraq’s most violent areas.
“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 an interview with USA Today that year.
Allen would go on to serve as the three-star deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, where he interacted with leaders from many Middle Eastern countries who will be involved in combating the Islamic State now. He became a four-star general and took over the Afghanistan war in July 2011, interacting regularly with notoriously difficult Afghan President Hamid Karzai before retiring in 2013.
Allen has been blunt that the United States needs to strike the Islamic State hard. The U.S. has an obligation to do so, he said in a June interview with Defense One.
“We did not ask for this emergency, but it is upon us, and this is a moment for U.S. strategic leadership,” Allen told Defense One. “The Iraqis badly need our help, and our friends and partners in the region are, once again, turning to the U.S. for leadership and decisive action.”
In coordinating the involvement of other nations, Allen would not serve as a military commander in Iraq. But he could help in managing complicated relationships needed to fight the Islamic State, including with countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.