Air Force general said to be Obama’s pick for NATO commander

President Obama has settled on Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove as his likely pick to serve as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, according to a NATO official.

Breedlove, 57, is the commander of U.S. Air Force personnel in Europe and Africa, a position he has held since July. He has served multiple tours in Europe during his 35-year military career, including several stints at Ramstein Air Base, the giant Air Force installation in Germany, as well as deployments to Spain and Italy.

Obama had previously nominated Marine Gen. John R. Allen to take the job as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe. But Allen withdrew his name from consideration this week, saying he would retire from the military to spend more time with his ailing wife instead of moving to Belgium, where NATO has its headquarters.

Allen, who stepped down this month as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said his decision was not affected by a Pentagon investigation into thousands of pages of e-mails and other documents that he exchanged with Jill Kelley, a Tampa socialite. Her ties to David H. Petraeus exposed the former Army general’s affair with another woman and prompted him to resign as CIA director last year.

The Pentagon’s inspector general cleared Allen of wrongdoing last month but has not released an investigative report or the general’s e-mails. If he had not decided to retire, Allen almost certainly would have faced questions about the e-mails during his confirmation hearing for the NATO job.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove arrives at the hotel Bayerischer Hof on the first day of the 49th Munich Conference on Security Policy in Munich on Feb. 1. (MARC MUELLER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Breedlove’s candidacy emerged as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta visited Brussels on Thursday for a routine meeting of NATO defense ministers. The NATO official who confirmed that Breedlove was the likely choice spoke on the condition of anonymity because Obama had not announced his nomination.

NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe has always been an American, because of the U.S. military’s leading role in the alliance. Breedlove would succeed U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who has held the post since 2009.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

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