Top US commander in Afghanistan investigated, Petraeus scandal widens

Reuters, PERTH, Australia

Wed, Nov 14, 2012 - Page 1

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is under investigation for alleged inappropriate communication with a woman at the center of a sex scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus, a senior US defense official said yesterday.

The shocking revelation threatens to fell another of the US military’s biggest names and suggests that the scandal involving Petraeus — a retired four-star general who had Allen’s job in Afghanistan before moving to the CIA last year — could expand much further than previously imagined.

The US official said the FBI uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of communications — mostly e-mails spanning from 2010 to this year — between Allen and Jill Kelley, who has been identified as a long-time friend of the Petraeus family and a Tampa, Florida, volunteer social liaison with military families at MacDill Air Force Base.

It was Kelley’s complaints about harassing e-mails from the woman with whom Petraeus had had an affair, Paula Broadwell, that prompted an FBI investigation, ultimately alerting authorities to Petraeus’ involvement with Broadwell. Petraeus resigned from his job on Friday last week.

It was unclear how Allen knew Kelley, but he was stationed in Tampa as the deputy director of the US military’s Central Command for three years until he took over in Afghanistan last year. Petraeus was head of the Tampa-based Central Command from 2008 to 2010.

Asked whether there was concern about the disclosure of classified information, the official said on condition of anonymity: “We are concerned about inappropriate communications. We are not going to speculate as to what is contained in these documents.”

However, even the sheer volume of communication alone could raise questions. Allen and Kelley were exchanging about 30 pages of communication per day, on average. Even if the notes were short, such intense interaction might have consumed a lot of Allen’s time.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in a statement given to reporters flying with him to Perth, Australia, that he had asked that Allen’s nomination to be commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe be delayed “and the president has agreed.”

Allen, who is now in Washington, was due to face a Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, as was his slated successor in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford.

The FBI referred the case to the Pentagon on Sunday and Panetta directed the US Department of Defense’s Inspector General to handle its investigation. Panetta informed the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee during the overnight flight to Australia. The House of Representatives Armed Services Committee was also notified.

The US defense official said that Allen denied any wrongdoing and that Panetta had opted to keep him in his job while the matter was under review, and until Dunford can be confirmed to replace him — a process that gains urgency given the potentially lengthy review process and the cloud it could cast over the mission in Afghanistan.

Commending Allen’s leadership in Afghanistan, Panetta said in his statement: “He is entitled to due process in this matter.”

At the same time, he said that he wanted the Senate to act “promptly” on Dunford’s nomination.