At 1:45 a.m. Eastern time today, the Pentagon sent out a statement from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announcing that Gen. John Allen, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, was under investigation for exchanging emails with the woman allegedly harassed by Gen. David Petraeus’ mistress.
And another scandal began in the short-lived string of Afghanistan tenures under this commander in chief.
Panetta said the matter was referred to his department on Sunday, two days after Petraeus’ resignation as CIA director was announced, and handed over to the Pentagon’s inspector general.
“While the matter is under investigation and before the facts are determined, General Allen will remain Commander of ISAF. His leadership has been instrumental in achieving the significant progress that ISAF, working alongside our Afghan partners, has made in bringing greater security to the Afghan people and in ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. He is entitled to due process in this matter,” Panetta said.
“In the meantime, I have asked the President – and the President has agreed – to put his nomination on hold until the relevant facts are determined,” the secretary added.
Allen was already scheduled for a February transition to be Commander of United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced in a joint statement that this confirmation hearing “has been postponed until a later date” with a change of command in Europe expected “no earlier than March.”
The European Command, first held by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, is not an easy spot to fill, particularly with a dwindling pool of four-star generals seen as senior enough for the position. The current commander in Europe, Adm. James Stavridis, was just cleared in a financial investigation that still may have killed his chances to become chief of naval operations.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, was nominated by President Obama to succeed Allen in Afghanistan. Panetta asked that this nomination be acted upon in the Senate “promptly”; the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding his hearing Thursday, when the Hill will be largely engulfed by a trio of Benghazi hearings.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that Obama put a hold on Allen’s nomination to the European post.
“I can tell you that the president thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan,” Carney said. “…He has faith in General Allen, believes he’s doing and has done an excellent job at ISAF, and I would refer you to the Pentagon for the process under way with regard to General Allen.”
If Allen is forced out, though, he will be the fourth commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to fall to a career-ending scandal or outright ouster during Obama’s administration.
It’s an inglorious record for a president keen on quickly exiting Afghanistan and taking credit for ending the war begun there after the 9/11 attacks by President George W. Bush.
In a December 2009 address, Obama claimed progress in turning around a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and announced an 18-month troop surge. “We will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future,” Obama vowed.
The following year, U.S. casualties in Afghanistan jumped to the highest point since the beginning of the war. Obama campaigned for re-election on the withdrawal from Iraq and planned pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
In a late September interview, Allen told 60 Minutes he was “mad as hell” about the increase in attacks by coalition-trained Afghan soldiers on coalition forces.