Wanted: Leader for U.S. troops in Europe

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is looking for a new candidate to lead American and allied forces in Europe after his first choice, Marine Gen. John Allen, bowed out Tuesday and announced his intention to retire for what he called personal reasons.

The move further clouds the picture for Obama as he repositions key figures on his national security team and in key military leadership roles. The White House is fighting for Senate confirmation of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Obama also is switching commanders at Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations throughout the greater Middle East, and Africa Command.

After meeting with Allen at the White House, the president issued a brief statement praising Allen's service. He called the 57-year-old Allen "one of America's finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly."

Allen appeared to be a shoo-in as the next top commander of allied forces in Europe. Obama nominated him last Oct. 10, but in November, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that Allen was being investigated for potentially inappropriate email exchanges with a Florida socialite, Jill Kelley. Panetta put Allen's nomination on hold.

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Last month, the Pentagon announced that Allen had been cleared of any wrongdoing and the White House said it was prepared to renominate him for the Europe job.

In a written statement Tuesday, Allen he wants to focus on helping his wife, Kathy, cope with health issues.

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