Marine Corps Gen. John Allen to retire

Marine Corps General John Allen in 2012 Getty Images

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."

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."

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 the investigation into emails Allen exchanged with a civilian woman who was linked to the scandal that forced CIA Director David Petraeus to resign.

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."

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