John Allen, the Other General

Eli Lake on what the two generals share

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Gen. John R. Allen, the second four star general ensnared in the sexual scandal that has already ended the career of David Petraeus, has a lot in common with the former CIA director beyond an acquaintance with Jill Kelley, a Tampa Bay woman who served as a social liaison with MacDill Airbase.

Like Petraeus, Allen served in a leadership post at Central Command (CentCom), the theater of operations that included the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At CentCom, Allen at first served under Petraeus as deputy commander between 2008 and 2010 until Petraeus left to command the U.S. war in Afghanistan. When Petraeus left Afghanistan to become CIA director, Allen took his slot in Kabul where he serves to this day.

Allen is believed to have sent several inappropriate emails to Kelley, the woman who was allegedly threatened by Paula Broadwell, the reported paramour of Petraeus, in a scandal that has now thrown Allen’s military career into question.

On Thursday the general was scheduled to testify before Congress regarding his nomination to be the supreme allied commander for NATO forces in Europe. But that nomination has been put on hold pending an investigation.

Allen honed his counterinsurgency chops in Iraq where he oversaw the effort to persuade Sunni sheiks in the lawless western part of the country to join the war against al Qaeda in what became known as the Anbar Awakening.

“He came up with a strategy for clearing Falluja itself and then bringing all the tribes around Falluja over to the coalition side,” said Mario Loyola, a former Pentagon analyst and speechwriter who got to know Allen at the Pentagon and later spent time with him, when he embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq for National Review magazine.

Loyola said Allen treated the sheiks with respect, addressing many of them as his “brothers,” even if some had been allied with al Qaeda only months earlier. He skillfully established “personal bonds of trust with the sheiks” and used those relationships to create a national network of pro-American Sunni sheiks and tribal leaders, Loyala said.

Returning stateside, he earned a reputation for being candid with members of Congress, according to two congressional aides who work on military affairs. “He was respected by both Democrats and Republicans,” a Democratic aide told The Daily Beast.

By the time Allen took command in Afghanistan, counterinsurgency and notions of “victory” had given way to plans for an American exit.

Loyola said Allen never discussed his personal life or his family, but focused on the job at hand. Much like Petraeus, Allen was known as a soldier with a scholarly side.

In 2007, Allen led a tour of Anbar province, pointing out historical and anthropological features of the ancient region. At one point, the general turned to Loyola and said: “But for a few twists and turns, I would’ve been an archeologist.”