WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is considering sending its top general in Afghanistan, who commands U.S. and NATO troops there during a crucial withdrawal period, to head U.S. forces in Europe this winter.
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said that Marine General John Allen, who took over command of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July 2011, was under initial consideration to become head of U.S. European command this winter, noting such plans were preliminary and could change.
"Allen is one of the most widely respected leaders in the military. No one would bat an eye if he were nominated," an administration official said on condition of anonymity. "He has earned the respect of U.S. policymakers and our allies for his strong leadership and acumen."
Pentagon spokesman George Little said that "no decisions have been reached on this nomination."
Allen has directed the campaign in Afghanistan as Western nations seek to balance the demands of fighting a still-potent insurgency with a mounting desire in home capitals to end the long, costly conflict.
Under a plan endorsed by the White House, Allen will oversee the removal of the 33,000 extra U.S. troops President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan, leaving about 68,000 by this fall. Most U.S. troops are due to be gone by the end of 2014.
Allen has been expected to make recommendations about further troop reductions once this summer's fighting season - which may show the degree to which the Taliban has been weakened, or remains resilient - is over.
Speculation about Allen's future comes only days before NATO leaders gather in Chicago for a summit that will focus on the Western path out of Afghanistan, and steps NATO can take to ensure the country does not slip backwards into greater violence when that happens.
The preliminary consideration of Allen for the move was first reported by the Washington Post. Western troops in Afghanistan have been headed by a succession of commanders since the war began in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
If Allen were nominated and confirmed as head of U.S. European Command, he would replace Admiral James Stavridis, who also serves as Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO.
Allen, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976, also served in Iraq and as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, which includes Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)