By Chris Lawrence
Gen. John Allen is considering whether to retire rather than move forward with the nomination to become the supreme allied commander of NATO, a staff member said.
In a written statement, a member of his staff said, "After 19 months in command in Afghanistan, and many before that spent away from home, Gen. Allen has been offered time to rest and reunite with his family before he turns his attention to his next assignment."
After speaking with Allen in the last two days, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: "My recommendation to him was 'take your time.' Your country will always find a way to make use of your great services, but you have to make up your own mind."
A senior Defense official tells CNN that Allen met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey Tuesday afternoon. But the official says he was not aware of whether Allen had informed Dempsey of his decision. The official says it was a personal, one-on-one meeting in Dempsey's Pentagon office.
NBC News first reported the news that Allen was "likely to withdraw from consideration for the job of top NATO commander." Allen was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan for nearly two years. But he was caught up in a scandal over embarrassing e-mails with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley that came to the public's attention during the same investigation that brought down former CIA Director David Petraeus.
CNN has previously reported that Defense officials said there was inappropriate language in those e-mails, but there was no evidence of an affair between Allen and Kelley. Allen's nomination was put on hold while the Pentagon's Inspector General looked into the issue. After several months, Allen was cleared of wrongdoing, and the White House initially indicated that President Barack Obama would proceed with the nomination.
On Wednesday, Panetta said: "Gen. Allen has been an outstanding commander for the U.S. and (the International Security Assistance Force). History, when it looks back, will look at the role played by Allen and see it as pivotal." Panetta acknowledged that Allen has "been under a tremendous amount of pressure."
The former Marine commander stepped down from his post in Kabul over the weekend, just days before President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be effectively halved by this time next year.
In July 2011, Allen succeeded Petraeus to inherit the largest-ever NATO force in Afghanistan and spent 19 months directing his forces against Taliban insurgents and preparing for the first phases of a hand-over of provincial security to local and national forces.
About 150,000 ISAF members were deployed at that time, including just under 100,000 U.S. troops. There are 66,000 U.S. service members currently deployed to the region.
"We served together in Iraq, and I can testify that no finer officer has ever worn a U.S. uniform," said veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker of his military counterpart just as the first U.S. service members began departing after a decade of war.
"A fair reckoning of Allen's tenure should give hope to those depressed about the war effort, as well as giving pause to those who would reduce our current forces too quickly out of frustration or fatalism," senior Brookings Institution fellow Michael O'Hanlon recently wrote in The Washington Post.
Less than a month after he assumed command, the United States suffered its single deadliest loss of lives of the Afghan war when insurgents downed a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Wardak province, leaving 30 U.S. service members dead, including 22 Navy SEALS.
Allen later faced additional diplomatic crises that followed controversial incidents that included the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. service members, U.S. airstrikes that resulted in civilian deaths and the killing of 16 civilians in a massacre allegedly carried out by a U.S. service member.
An uptick in "green-on-blue" attacks - a phenomenon whereby Afghan forces, or trainees, turn their weapons against U.S. counterparts - is also believed to have hampered the training of Afghan forces and contributed to increased public discontent at home over American deployment to the region.
A graduate of Georgetown University and the National War College, Allen also drew distinction for his counterinsurgency work in Iraq, particularly in the country's volatile Anbar province in 2008, where he helped isolate a growing insurgency.