WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's inspector general has cleared the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan of wrongdoing following an investigation into whether he exchanged inappropriate emails with the same Tampa, Fla., socialite involved in the scandal that prompted David Petraeus to resign as CIA director, senior U.S. officials said.
The FBI uncovered messages from Marine Gen. John Allen during its investigation of Mr. Petraeus last year. The tenor of some of the emails, which senior defense officials described as racy and flirtatious, prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to order a formal inquiry.
In a letter sent last Friday to Gen. Allen, the inspector general wrote that Gen. Allen had not violated military prohibitions against conduct unbecoming an officer, according to the senior U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter on the record. "He was completely exonerated," one of the officials said.
Gen. Allen exchanged the messages with Jill Kelley, 37, who ingratiated herself with several senior officers at the Tampa headquarters of the U.S. Central Command. Ms. Kelley's complaint to the FBI about another set of messages -- ones that were harassing -- eventually led to the discovery of an affair between Mr. Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The FBI determined that Ms. Broadwell, for reasons still not clear, had sent Ms. Kelley the harassing emails.
A spokesman for Gen. Allen declined to comment.
The inspector general's investigation prompted the White House to place on hold Gen. Allen's nomination to become the supreme allied commander in Europe. Gen. Allen is scheduled to relinquish command in Afghanistan early next month, and the Pentagon has not yet requested that the Senate Armed Services Committee reschedule his nomination.
Defense officials have said Mr. Panetta's decision to refer the emails to the inspector was driven by the content of some of the messages and by a desire to show that the Pentagon was not trying to ignore any potential misconduct in the wake of the Petraeus scandal.
Although the messages have not been released, and the inspector did not characterize them in the letter, some military officials sympathetic to Gen. Allen questioned on Tuesday whether Mr. Panetta overreacted, placing a cloud over the general's head at a critical juncture in the Afghan war. A senior defense official said Mr. Panetta referred the matter to the inspector general upon the recommendation of civilian and military attorneys.
Gen. Allen has spent the past few weeks refining his recommendations for the number of U.S. troops that should be withdrawn from Afghanistan this year and the number of forces that should be stationed in the country once the U.S. and NATO combat mission ends in 2014.
Gen. Allen's partisans said Ms. Kelley was a close friend to Gen. Allen and his wife, Kathy.
Many of the messages related to social events or to items Ms. Kelley had seen in the news, said a senior official close to Gen. Allen. Sometimes she wrote to compliment the general on a television interview, the official said, and sometimes she copied him on a message intended for his wife.