Nominee for NATO Commander Retires Citing Wife’s Health

Marine General John Allen
Marine General John Allen speaks on the reshuffling of President Barack Obama's national security team, as current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens at the White House in Washington, D.C.. Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Marine General John Allen, who was the top commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan for the past 19 months, said he will retire to care for his ill wife, declining advancement to the post of supreme allied commander in Europe.

President Barack Obama, who accepted Allen’s decision to retire after 38 years in the military, will now have to select a new nominee to be the top commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He was succeeded in the Afghanistan post on Feb. 10 by U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford.

Allen “cares deeply for the men and women in uniform who serve our nation -- as well as their families -- and I am grateful for the sacrifices made by his family in supporting him during his service,” Obama said in a statement yesterday.

Allen’s nomination to the NATO post was put on hold in November after the revelation of e-mail communications between the general and Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Florida, socialite. The e-mails surfaced as part of an investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus, who admitted to an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

A Defense Department investigation last month cleared Allen of wrongdoing, and White House spokesman Jay Carney said Jan. 23 that the Obama administration was urging the Senate to resume consideration of the general’s nomination.

Allen said yesterday in an e-mailed statement that the reasons for his decision were personal.

“I did not come to it lightly or quickly, but given the considerations behind it, I recognized in the end it was the only choice I could make,” Allen said. “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.”

Virginia Home

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Allen, in an interview, said his wife is suffering from a combination of chronic health issues that includes an autoimmune disorder.

“For more than 35 years, my beloved Kathy has devotedly stood beside me and enabled me to serve my country,” he said in the e-mailed statement. ‘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.’’

He said he is returning to his home in Virginia “to take care of my family.”

Allen presided over the withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and closed almost 600 bases and facilities as part of the phased pull-out scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.

Farewell Letter

“I wish I could say that this war is simple and that progress can be easily measured -- but that’s not the way of counterinsurgencies,” Allen wrote in a farewell letter to troops on Feb. 10. “Nonetheless, I believe this campaign is on track. We are making a difference.”

Allen, a 1976 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under Petraeus before taking over coalition forces in Afghanistan in July 2011.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Allen “has proven himself to be one of the United States military’s most outstanding battlefield leaders, a brilliant strategist, and an exemplary Marine, and I am deeply grateful for his many years of dedicated service to our country.”

Obama praised Allen for having “presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al-Qaeda and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country.”

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at