WASHINGTON The man who ran the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan until this past weekend, General John Allen, is weighing whether he still wants the military's top job in Europe after being cleared of professional misconduct in a Pentagon probe, officials said on Wednesday.
Just days before his confirmation hearing for the European post last November, Allen became ensnared in the scandal that prompted retired General David Petraeus to resign as CIA director. Allen's emails with a Florida socialite emerged in the FBI investigation and were referred to the Pentagon.
A Pentagon probe last month cleared him of any wrongdoing and the White House announced it would proceed with Allen's nomination as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe.
Allen is now weighing his options, officials say. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who met with Allen on Tuesday, acknowledged the Marine general had been under tremendous pressure during his 19-month Afghan tour.
"My recommendation to him was: 'Take your time ... be with your family, think about what you need to do," Panetta recounted to reporters. "I think your country will always find a way to make use of your great services, but you've got to make the decision as to what you want to do in the future."
U.S. officials stressed Allen had not made a decision. Panetta also said Allen had not indicated to him whether he was likely to turn down the command post in Europe.
The fact he has not decided about his future, three weeks after the White House indicated it was moving ahead with his nomination, has sparked speculation about his next steps.
"Obviously we have tremendous confidence in him," Panetta said, adding he would do whatever he could to "make sure that he serves this country in whatever capacity he wants to serve this country."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)