Obama administration's envoy to anti-Islamic State coalition to resign

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, former commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, visits with troops in Helmand province in this undated Stars and Stripes file photo.


By KAREN DEYOUNG | The Washington Post | Published: September 22, 2015

WASHINGTON — Retired Marine Gen. John Allen has told the White House he will resign later this fall as the Obama administration's envoy to the international coalition against the Islamic State, according to U.S. officials.

Allen's departure comes at a crucial moment in the fight against the militants, as efforts have stalled to drive them out of Iraq and to prevent them from expanding their territory in Syria.

In recent days, the administration has developed plans for a more aggressive campaign in Syria, including expanding aid to rebel forces — backed by U.S. air power — which have had some success against the Islamic State on the ground.

Administration officials, while refusing to publicly confirm Allen's planned departure, praised him for creating and keeping intact the sometimes unwieldy coalition of 62 nations — including Western powers and Sunni Arab monarchies — to combat the militants. Most recently, Allen was the driving force behind Turkey's agreement to allow U.S. use of Turkish bases for airstrikes into Syria.

But Allen is known to have been frustrated by the Pentagon's reluctance to augment the U.S. effort in other ways. Defense officials have shown little enthusiasm for using air power to secure a safe zone along Syria's western border with Turkey and to use attack helicopters and forward ground spotters to direct airstrikes in Iraq.

About 3,000 U.S. servicemembers are on the ground in Iraq, but they are restricted to training and advisory roles and are kept well back from the front lines.

Allen's appointment rankled many within the U.S. military, where the presence of a retired four-star general in a senior civilian role was seen as confusing partners and muddying the chain of command. As time went on, Allen's well-known support for expanding U.S. involvement exacerbated the friction, as top military leaders were reluctant to again risk U.S. lives on the ground in Iraq, especially given Iraqi forces' failures during the past year in confronting the Islamic State.

In addition to differences over U.S. strategy, his relations were known to be particularly strained with Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. Central Command who is in charge of all U.S. military operations in the region.

Attention this week has focused on Russia's increased military deployments in Syria, including air, ground and naval resources. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that "for the moment, it is the judgment of our military and most experts" that the Russian expansion "represents basically force protection" for existing Russian assets on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

Asked Wednesday about Allen's departure, first reported by Bloomberg View, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest referred questions to the State Department, where spokesman Mike Lavallee said, "We have no announcements to make."

Allen was first named to the coalition post, based in the State Department, in September 2014, as the air campaign against the Islamic State began. He initially committed to serve six months, then agreed to six more. Although that time is expired, the administration still appeared disappointed by his decision and irritated that it became public on the eve of next week's U.N. General Assembly, where the anti-Islamic State fight will be a focus for President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

In his last job before retirement from the military in early 2013, Allen commanded U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, a position in which he developed a close relationship with Obama. Although the president later wanted to give Allen the military's most prestigious overseas assignment — supreme allied commander in Europe — Allen resigned from the service when his wife became seriously ill.

Washington Post staff writer Missy Ryan contributed to this report.