The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, is likely to leave to become the chief allied commander in Europe early next year as the war effort moves toward its final phase, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday.
The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity because no final decision has been made on Allen's expected move, which was first reported by the Washington Post.
Allen has run the war from Kabul since July 2011, when he replaced Gen. David Petraeus, who retired from the Army to become CIA director.
Allen recently submitted to his chain of command a plan for reducing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the end of September. He is scheduled to attend a NATO summit meeting in Chicago this weekend.
Among the likely candidates to replace Allen in Kabul is Navy Vice Adm. Robert S. Harwood, a Navy SEAL who is deputy commander of U.S. Central Command. That is the post Allen held when President Barack Obama picked him to succeed Petraeus.
If nominated, as expected, and confirmed by the Senate, Allen would replace Navy Adm. James Stavridis as head of the U.S. European Command and the top NATO commander in Europe. Stavridis had been scheduled to leave that job this summer but has been asked to extend his tour until at least the end of the year.
In the NATO job Allen would remain heavily involved in Afghan issues, since the alliance is expected to continue supporting Afghanistan _ militarily and politically _ after the allied combat role largely ends in 2014.