WASHINGTON — Marine Gen. John Allen, who was accused and then cleared of impropriety in an email scandal involving a Tampa socialite, has chosen to retire from the military, citing health concerns in his family, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

"The reasons for my decision are personal. I did not come to it lightly or quickly, but given the considerations behind it, I recognized in the end it was the only choice I could make," Allen said in a written statement. "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.

"For more than 35 years, my beloved Kathy has devotedly stood beside me and enabled me to serve my country. It is profoundly sobering to consider how much of that time I have spent away from her and our two precious daughters. It is now my turn to stand beside them, to be there for them when they need me most," Allen said.

Allen headed the international effort in Afghanistan for 19 months – a tumultuous time of insider attacks, the withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops and a push to shift more responsibility to Afghan forces. He turned over command to Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford earlier this month and had been nominated to lead American and NATO forces in Europe as NATO supreme allied commander-Europe and the head of U.S. European Command.

That nomination was put on hold in November, when Allen was accused of exchanging inappropriate emails with Jill Kelley, a Florida woman with ties to officers at U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. Defense Department investigators in January said there was no evidence to support the allegations.

Allen had asked for some time to consider whether to move forward with his nomination and the required confirmation hearing, officials said last week.

On Tuesday, Obama said Allen had asked to retire “so that he can address health issues within his family.”

Allen told the Washington Post that his decision to retire was not influenced by the investigation, but that it had taken a toll on his wife. He also said he and his wife had not had a vacation since their daughters were children, and he is looking forward to being home regularly.

"Having relinquished command of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan – the greatest honor of my life – and returned home to my beloved Virginia, it is now time to take care of my family," Allen said.

Allen graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and later became the first Marine Corps officer to serve as the academy’s commandant of midshipmen. He was also the first Marine selected to command coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Allen "one of the United States military's most outstanding battlefield leaders, a brilliant strategist and an exemplary Marine."

"His leadership over the last 19 months will long be remembered as pivotal to this campaign," Panetta said in a written statement. "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."

Also in a statement Tuesday, Obama praised Allen for his “extraordinary service” in Afghanistan.

“Above all, he cares deeply for the men and women in uniform who serve our nation – as well as their families – and I am grateful for the sacrifices made by his family in supporting him during his service.” Twitter: @jhlad

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