WASHINGTON -- Gen. John Allen, the four-star Marine Corps officer who served until earlier this month as the top commander in Afghanistan, will retire from the military to focus on "health issues within his family," President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
Gen. Allen was caught up in the scandal that led to the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director. But in January, the Pentagon officially cleared him of misconduct after an investigation into his exchange of emails with Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Fla., woman who was also a friend of Mr. Petraeus'. Gen. Allen had gotten to know her when he was in a leadership role at the Central Command in Tampa.
Mr. Obama had nominated Gen. Allen, 59, to be the supreme commander of NATO, but in the intervening weeks the general decided to retire.
"I told Gen. 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 U.S. Marine Corps," Mr. Obama said in a statement. "John Allen is one of America's finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly."
After Mr. Obama's announcement, Gen. Allen released a statement through Pentagon officials saying that "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," 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."
But there is little doubt that an unexpected obstacle to Gen. Allen's new assignment at NATO was the inquiry by the Pentagon inspector general.
Gen. Allen had strong support among Senate Armed Services Committee members, and confirmation seemed certain. Even so, officials noted that during a confirmation process, a senator could have requested the emails between Gen. Allen and Ms. Kelley, and that they might have become public.
Leon Panetta, the departing defense secretary, on Tuesday described Gen. Allen as "one of the U.S. 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."
Gen. Allen has "been under a tremendous amount of pressure, a lot of challenges," Mr. Panetta said, citing the demands of commanding a complex counterinsurgency effort, as well as the effort to compose recommendations to Mr. Obama on reducing troop levels in Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials said Gen. Allen's wife, Kathy, has been battling long-term health problems, including an autoimmune issue, and that another overseas move, to Belgium for the NATO job, would have been difficult.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. succeeded Gen. Allen as commander of U.S. and international military forces in Afghanistan in a Feb. 10 ceremony in Kabul.
The president's statement did not say who would be nominated to be the supreme NATO commander, a post now held by Adm. James Stavridis, who is set to retire this spring after a career that included leading the military's Southern Command.