President Barack Obama is looking for a new candidate to lead American and allied forces in Europe after his first choice, Marine Gen. John Allen, bowed out Tuesday and announced his intention to retire for what he called personal reasons.
The move further clouds the picture for Obama as he repositions key figures on his national security team and in key military leadership roles. The White House is fighting for Senate confirmation of Chuck Hagel as defence secretary; a confirmation vote was stalled last week by Republicans but is expected to happen next week.
Obama also is switching commanders at Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations throughout the greater Middle East, and Africa Command.
After meeting with Allen at the White House, the president issued a brief statement praising Allen's service. He called the 57-year-old Allen "one of America's finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly."
Allen appeared to be a shoo-in as the next top commander of allied forces in Europe. Obama nominated him last Oct. 10, but in November Defence Secretary Leon Panetta stunned many by announcing that Allen was being investigated for potentially inappropriate email exchanges with a Florida socialite, Jill Kelley. Panetta put Allen's nomination on hold.
Last month, shortly before Allen completed a 19-month tour as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced that Allen had been cleared of any wrongdoing and the White House said it was prepared to re-nominate him for the Europe job.
Even so, it was not clear that Allen would choose to go ahead with a Senate confirmation hearing, given the nature of the email probe.