Four-star general earned Obama's trust before suffering collateral damage from Petraeus' affair

 

Washington

John Allen, the four-star Marine general who commands US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, intended to spend a low-key week in Washington working on plans to end the war and start a prestigious new assignment.

He was scheduled to discuss proposals for troop reductions with Pentagon officials, and he was to appear before the Senate for what was expected to be a slam-dunk confirmation hearing to become the next top allied commander in Europe.

All of that is now on hold. The disclosure early Tuesday that Allen exchanged numerous e-mails with Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old Tampa, Fla. socialite involved in the David Petraeus sex scandal, has thrust the general into an unexpected battle in the capital: a fight for his professional life.

The few details that have been released by the Defense Department suggest that Allen has much explaining to do. The printouts of the exchanges and associated documents stretch for 20,000 to 30,000 pages. Some of the messages were "flirtatious," according to a senior Pentagon official. Another called them "potentially inappropriate."

Officials close to Allen insisted that he did not have a sexual relationship with Kelley. Allen's partisans proffer a more innocuous explanation for the volume of messages, which, they contend, was in the hundreds, not the thousands described in news reports. The officials say that Kelley was a close friend to Allen and his wife, Kathy. Although Allen, who was raised in Virginia, sometimes used words such as "sweetheart" in addressing Kelley, the officials said, he intended it as a term of platonic friendship, not romantic interest.

The problem, his allies said, is that Kelley was a prolific e-mailer. And so is Allen.

Starting four years ago, when he became the deputy chief of the Central Command, his inbox and outbox filled with messages to and from Kelley, a married mother of three who has cultivated close ties with several senior military commanders, including Petraeus, who have spent time at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home to the Central Command.

According to a senior official close to Allen, many of the missives related to social events or to items Kelley had seen in the news. Sometimes she wrote to compliment him on a television interview. Sometimes she copied the general on a message intended for his wife.

"He returns almost every e-mail," the official said. "To him, it's a sign of politeness."

The frequency of Allen's communication with Kelley prompted questions about whether his focus on the war was compromised. But Allen, the official said, generally reads and responds to personal e-mail between midnight and 2 a.m., when most of his subordinates have gone to bed.

The 6-foot-tall, silver-haired Allen comes across more as professor and Southern gentleman than a hard-bitten Marine general. He is courteous and prone to measured locution. He reads military histories before turning out the light — he sleeps only about four hours a night — and he sets aside several hours each week "to think about big ideas."

Allen, 58, blazed an unconventional path to the commander's office in Kabul, Afghanistan. A native of Warrenton, Va., he decided to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy after hearing his father, a Navy radio man who served in World War II , share tales of naval heroism.

Although Allen would go on to lead a Marine infantry company and a battalion, he never had sole command of a division-size unit — a prerequisite to becoming a four-star wartime commander. Instead, his career has been filled with unusual accomplishments: He won a coveted leadership award given to only one Marine captain each year, and he became the first Marine to serve as the commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy.

He spent two years in Iraq's Anbar province, where he led an effort to reach out to Sunni tribal leaders and persuade them to stand against al-Qaida militants — a shift that helped turn the course of the war in western Iraq.

He eventually became the deputy commander of the Central Command, where his portfolio focused largely on Iran. The job afforded him the opportunity to brief President Barack Obama, who grew impressed by the general's analyses. When Obama appointed Petraeus to head the CIA, Allen got tapped to go to Kabul.

Allen could not be more different than Petraeus, his fellow four-star protagonist in the unfolding scandal.

Unlike his predecessor in Kabul, Allen rarely grants extended interviews to journalists, and when he is at home, he prefers to dine with his wife instead of attending cocktail receptions. "He's deeply embarrassed by this," the senior official said.

In Afghanistan, he has shifted away from Petraeus' resource-intensive counterinsurgency strategy. He has narrowed targets to the development of local government, the pursuit of corruption and economic development. His focus is on the essential prerequisite for the United States to head for the exit, as defined by the White House: Afghan security forces that are strong enough to keep the Taliban, which continues to enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, from toppling the Kabul government.

Although much of the Afghan army remains fragile, with poor leadership and persistent supply shortages, he is betting that shifting responsibility sooner will increase the odds that Afghans will be able to hold their ground once the U.S. presence shrinks.

By moving to unwind the war, Allen has earned a degree of praise from Obama that never was accorded to his predecessors. When Obama and Allen walked out of a lunch in the White House earlier this year, the president put his arm around the general, according to administration and military officials. "John Allen is my man," Obama said to staffers waiting in an anteroom.

On Tuesday, the White House let it be known that Allen still had the president's support, despite what might be a lengthy Defense Department inspector general's investigation and a delay until February of his confirmation hearing.

"The president thinks very highly of General Allen," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "He has faith in General Allen."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before