Marine Gen. John Allen

Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

Gen. John Allen earned the president's trust

  • Washington Post
  • November 13, 2012 - 11:02 PM

WASHINGTON - John Allen, the four-star Marine general who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was in Washington 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.

But 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.

Officials close to Allen insisted that he did not have a sexual relationship with Kelley. The problem, his allies said, is that Kelley is 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 6-foot-tall, silver-haired Allen 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."

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, and when President Obama appointed Petraeus to head the CIA, Allen got tapped to go to Kabul.

In Afghanistan, by moving to unwind the war, Allen earned a degree of praise from Obama that was never accorded to his predecessors.

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