WASHINGTON-- President Barack Obama says he has accepted Marine Gen. John Allen's request to retire from the U.S. military.
That means the White House won't go forward with Allen's nomination to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Europe.
Obama says Allen is retiring so he can address family health issues. He's calling Allen one of the nation's finest military leaders and a true patriot.
In a statement, President Obama said: "I met with General John Allen and accepted his request to retire from the military so that he can address health issues within his family. I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps. General Allen 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. He worked tirelessly to strengthen our coalition through his leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and to improve our relations with the Afghan government."
Allen recently left his command in Afghanistan and was nominated last fall to become the U.S. military's top soldier in Europe. But that nomination was shelved during a Pentagon investigation into emails Allen exchanged with a civilian woman who was linked to the scandal that forced CIA Director David Petraeus to resign. Allen since has been cleared of wrongdoing.
Allen, 59, of Warrenton, Va., was the longest serving commander of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan so far. Nearly two dozen generals have commanded troops from the United States and other nations in the coalition since the American invasion in late 2001 -- with six U.S. generals, including the current leader, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, running both commands in the past five years alone.
Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi applauded Allen's military campaign against the insurgents.
"The efforts and the role played by Gen. Allen to apply military pressure against the Taliban and terrorists through joint special operations have led to the death and capture of many terrorists and Taliban leaders," Mohammadi said. The operations, he added, allowed Afghan forces to expand their control across areas heavily influenced by the Taliban.
Obama said last month that the Afghans would take over this spring instead of late summer -- a decision that could permit a speedier withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Allen said he told Dunford at the leadership handover ceremony "our victory here will never be marked by a parade or a point in time on a calendar when victory is declared. This insurgency will be defeated over time by the legitimate and well-trained Afghan forces that are emerging today and who are taking the field in full force this spring."
The matter of Allen's email was referred to the Pentagon in November by the FBI during the course of its investigation of emails between former CIA Director David Petraeus and his biographer-turned-paramour, Paula Broadwell. The FBI turned up thousands of emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, who was said to have received threatening emails from Broadwell.
At the time, officials said 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents from Allen's communications with Kelley between 2010 and 2012 were in question.
Shortly after being contacted by the FBI, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta referred the matter to the Pentagon's inspector general, while expressing confidence in Allen and deciding that he would remain in Kabul as commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan.
At the same time, Allen's nomination to be the next U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe was put on hold.
When the matter arose in November, defense officials expressed concern that at least some of the emails might be judged "inappropriate," but the inspector general determined that such concerns were "unsubstantiated."
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