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Gen. Allen to retire, not taking NATO nomination

Francois Lenoir / Reuters

In this Oct. 2012 file photo, U.S. General John Allen attends a news conference during a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels. Allen has decided to retire rather than proceed with his nomination as the NATO supreme allied commander due to "health issues" in his family.

General John Allen said Tuesday he has decided to retire for "personal" reasons, leaving behind his nomination as the NATO supreme allied commander.

President Barack Obama accepted Allen's request, praising him as "one of America's finest military leaders" and "a true patriot," The White House released in a statement Tuesday. Back in October, Obama nominated Allen for supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe.

Last week, three U.S. military officials told NBC News that Allen's withdrawal from the position was likely to happen. The officials acknowledged that Allen did not want to drag his family through a nomination process, which likely would have brought up his controversial emails with Florida socialite Jill Kelley.

Allen's emails Kelley came to light during the investigation that ultimately brought down CIA director David Petraeus, who confessed to an extramarital affair with a separate woman. The Pentagon had cleared Allen of wrongdoing in that scandal last month.

In a statement Tuesday, Allen made clear that his decision to retire after 32 years in uniform was personal: "While I won't go into the details, my primary concern is for the health of my wife, who has sacrificed so much for so long."

Obama commended Allen's service in Afghanistan, where Allen has served as a top U.S. commander.

"General Allen presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al-Qaida and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country," Obama said.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also expressed his gratitude for Allen's efforts in Afghanistan.

"His leadership over the last 19 months will long be remembered as pivotal to this campaign," Panetta said in a statement Tuesday. "The strategy he developed and implemented has put us on the right path towards completing this mission, with Afghan forces now on track to step into the lead for security nationwide this spring and to assume full security responsibility by the end of next year."