WASHINGTON – President Obama said Tuesday he accepted Marine Gen. John Allen's request to retire rather than proceed with the White House's previous plan to make him commander of NATO forces in Europe.
Allen, who earlier this month completed a 19-month stint as the top commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, requested retirement "so that he can address health issues within his family," Obama said in a brief written statement. The president did not elaborate on the health issues.
In a separate written statement, Allen said he wants to focus on helping his wife, Kathy, cope with health issues. He was not specific, but The Washington Post quoted Allen on Monday as saying that his wife suffers from a combination of chronic health issues that include an autoimmune disorder.
Allen's highly regarded career, which includes a tour of duty in Iraq that is credited with helping turn the tide of that war in 2007, took a surprise turn last fall when the Pentagon announced that he was being investigated for potentially inappropriate email exchanges with a civilian woman in Florida. Last month the Pentagon announced that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
"The reasons for my decision are 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 in his statement Tuesday, following Obama's announcement.
"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. For more than 35 years, my beloved Kathy has devotedly stood beside me and enabled me to serve my country.
"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. "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."
Shortly before the email issue surfaced, the White House had nominated Allen for the NATO job; that was put on hold during the investigation, but after Allen was cleared last month, the White House said it was prepared to proceed with his nomination. At that point Allen asked for time to reconsider.
Allen had been expected to easily win Senate confirmation to be the NATO commander in Europe, succeeding Navy Adm. James Stavridis. It's not clear whom the White House will nominate to take that job.