WASHINGTON — A Pentagon investigation has cleared Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, of professional misconduct in an exchange of emails with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was informed of the conclusion by the Pentagon's inspector general, press secretary George Little said Tuesday.
"The secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation," Little said, adding that Panetta has "complete confidence in the continued leadership" of Allen.
Before being deployed to Afghanistan, Allen served as deputy commander and then acting commander of Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base from 2008 to 2011.
He followed the command of Gen. David Petraeus, who left to become the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and then the CIA director — until Kelley unwittingly touched off a scandal last year that caused him to resign.
The inquiry of Allen had been referred to the Pentagon in November by the FBI during its investigation of emails between Petraeus and his biographer-turned-paramour, Paula Broadwell.
The FBI investigation was touched off when Kelley, 37, received alarming emails from Broadwell. During its investigation of those emails, the FBI also turned up thousands of emails between Allen and Kelley.
Shortly after being contacted by the FBI, Panetta referred the matter to the Pentagon's inspector general, while expressing confidence in Allen and deciding that he would remain in Kabul as commander of allied forces in Afghanistan.
Allen's nomination to be the next U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe was put on hold. Officials said Tuesday the White House had not decided whether to go forward with the nomination.
Maj. David Nevers, a spokesman for Allen, said he had no immediate comment on reports of his being exonerated.
Allen's successor in Kabul, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has been confirmed by the Senate and is scheduled to take over Feb. 10.
Allen had maintained he did nothing wrong in the Kelley communications, but he has not spoken publicly about the specifics of his email exchanges with her. She served as a sort of social ambassador for MacDill Air Force Base and the U.S. Central Command, and threw parties for military brass at her Bayshore Boulevard mansion.
Allen has spent the past few weeks refining his recommendations for the number of U.S. troops that should be withdrawn from Afghanistan this year and the number of forces that should be stationed in the country once the U.S. and NATO combat mission ends in 2014.
Allen's preferred options, which have not yet been formally submitted to the Pentagon, entail more troops than those favored by top civilian aides to President Barack Obama, the Washington Post reported, citing senior military and administration officials. Allen wants to keep about 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, while White House officials are leaning toward a force of 2,500 to 6,000, the Post reported.