BRUSSELS -- Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the top U.S. Air Force commander in Europe, is the likely choice to become commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, a senior NATO official said yesterday.

The job opened up when President Barack Obama's first choice, Marine Gen. John Allen, announced this week he would retire after 19 months commanding allied forces in Afghanistan in order to attend to his wife's health issues.

The NATO official was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

If nominated and confirmed by the Senate, Breedlove would be the first Air Force general to hold the top NATO job since Joseph Ralston in 2000-2003. Breedlove would succeed Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who has held the post since 2009.

A native of Forest Park, Ga., Breedlove earned his Air Force officer commission in 1977 in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program at George Tech and has extensive overseas experience, including numerous tours of duty in Europe.

A fighter pilot by training, Breedlove served in Spain and Germany in the mid- and late 1990s; in Italy in 2004-05, and in Germany in 2005-2006 and 2008-2009. He has been commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe, since last July. Breedlove also served tours in South Korea in 1991-1994 and 2000-2001.

The job of commanding NATO forces in Europe is considered one of the more prestigious command positions for U.S. generals. The U.S. has about 80,000 troops based in Europe.

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