WASHINGTON — Gen. John Allen, who was top commander in Afghanistan until Feb. 10, announced Tuesday that he is retiring from the Marine Corps due to his wife’s chronic illness, turning down a White House offer to nominate him to be the supreme allied commander at NATO.
Allen, who was cleared last month by the Pentagon inspector general of misconduct in connection with hundreds of emails he exchanged with a Florida socialite, said he was retiring after 38 years in uniform for personal reasons that included the need to care for his wife, Kathy Allen, who has an autoimmune disorder.
“The reasons for my decision are personal,” he said in a statement. “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.”
President Obama met with Allen on Tuesday “and accepted his request to retire from the military so that he can address health issues within his family,” the White House said in a statement that praised Allen’s 19 months in command in Afghanistan.
The White House had planned late last year to promote Allen to the top U.S. commander in Europe, and Allen had accepted the offer. But the nomination was put on hold after he became ensnared in the scandal that forced retired Gen. David Petraeus to resign as CIA director in November.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered an inspector general investigation into hundreds of emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Fla., resident who knew Allen when he served as the deputy commander officer at Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East based in Tampa.
The FBI uncovered the Kelley-Allen emails while investigating anonymous, harassing emails sent to Kelley about Petraeus. The FBI traced the emails to Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell, whose extramarital affair with Petraeus led him to resign from the CIA.
After Allen was cleared last month of misconduct by the Pentagon inspector general, the White House had planned to send his nomination forward, but last week Allen informed Panetta that he was thinking of retiring.
An officer familiar with Allen’s thinking said the investigation had nothing to do with Allen’s decision. He had agreed to take the job in Europe initially because he hoped his wife’s health would improve after he left Afghanistan, but it has become clear in recent weeks that she has not gotten better.
“He and his wife have been approaching this decision for a long time. Their hope was that her condition would improve upon his return home from Afghanistan. It hasn't. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that he made the decision," said the officer, who agreed to discuss Allen’s decision anonymously.
"For more than 35 years, my beloved Kathy has devotedly stood beside me and enabled me to serve my country," Allen said. “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.”
Panetta, who is stepping down shortly as Defense secretary, said in a statement: “I will be forever thankful that the international effort in Afghanistan was in Gen. Allen's capable hands during much of my tenure as secretary of Defense. His leadership over the last 19 months will long be remembered as pivotal to this campaign. “
Allen’s retirement leaves the White House without an obvious candidate to be supreme allied commander in Europe, one of the military’s most senior jobs. The current commander, Navy Adm. James Stavrides, who has been in the job since 2009, was initially scheduled to step down last summer. One candidate to replace him who was reportedly under consideration last year, retired Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who has served as top White House national security aide since the Bush administration, may get another look.
[For the Record, 12:27 p.m. PST Feb. 19: Allen's command in Afghanistan lasted until Feb. 10, not last month as perviously noted.]