David Petraeus, perhaps the most celebrated American general of his generation, is likely to leave his job as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan this summer, multiple defense officials say.
Petraeus, who stepped into the post last summer after President Barack Obama fired Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal for comments his aides made to Rolling Stone magazine, is likely to be succeeded by Deputy CENTCOM commander, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen, defense sources told The Envoy.
Meantime, the deputy U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, was nominated this week for a fourth star and to take charge of Army Force Command, moving to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He is likely to be succeeded in Afghanistan by Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti, currently commander of the I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington State, defense sources said.
(The Center for New American Security's Tom Ricks previously reported that Allen would be tapped to succeed Petraeus.)
Both Scaparrotti--a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division who is planning to bring several three-star advisors with him to Afghanistan--and Allen are extremely respected figures among their peers.
John Allen is "a rock star, one of the brightest lights in the U.S. military," one Defense official told The Envoy on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. As deputy commanding general for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Allen has been the point man for all things Iran. In Iraq, Allen was one of the authors of the "Anbar Awakening"--the largely successful Sunni reconciliation and reintegration effort, for the Marine Corps from late 2006 to 2007.
Few people in the military "understand the on-the-ground, inherently political nature of irregular war" and counterinsurgency strategy as well as Allen, the official said, adding that the Marine Corps three-star also understands Washington and the inter-agency.
Where will Petraeus go? Military officers who have worked with the commander say he has long been interested in commanding U.S. forces in Europe--the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, SACEUR--a post currently held by Adm. James Stavridis. Some twenty-five years ago, Petraeus served as a speechwriter to then-SACEUR Gen. John Galvin, a defense analyst said, and Petraeus has been intrigued by the job since.
Another military analyst who has recently interacted with Petraeus in Afghanistan said Petraeus is worn out, and still recovering from prostate cancer.
"Petraeus is tired, really exhausted," the defense analyst said on condition of anonymity. "He stepped into the breach, and I think the plan was for him to come in and serve out the remainder of McChrystal's time. But McChrystal was well rested when he took the job. Petraeus is still recovering from cancer. He went from one extremely high-stress position to another."
Petraeus' departure from Afghanistan--likely in the summer--"has been in the works," the analyst said.
Some national security hands have heard a rumor, meantime, that Petraeus might be tapped for CIA director if--as many expect--CIA Director Leon Panetta is nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The persistent -- if admittedly bizarre -- rumor has some defense analysts and Petraeus admirers scratching their heads. Petraeus has spent his whole career "caring about the military as an institution," American Enterprise Institute military analyst Tom Donnelly said this week, adding that Petraeus "doesn't have that relationship" with the civilian intelligence agency.
"Gen. Petraeus has a good relationship with Panetta, and he may be intrigued by the possibility" of the intelligence post, the military analyst who observed the general's fatigue in Afghanistan allowed.
One thing is clear, the defense analysts said: the White House is unlikely to be comfortable elevating Petraeus to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he would be a major power center with potential at least perceived political-rival implications.
A spokesman for Petraeus did not respond to queries on the general's plans.
Meantime, SACEUR commander Adm. Stavridis is said to be a leading contender, along with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs when Mullen retires by the end of the year. Cartwright--who represents the uniformed military at the all-important White House deputies committee meetings — is said to be an Obama favorite. He was recently exonerated from allegations of an improper relationship with a female aide. Stavridis, currently commanding NATO operations in Libya, is also very highly regarded as a rising star and terrific manager.
(President Barack Obama, followed by Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, walks to the White House Rose Garden Wednesday, June 23, 2010, to announce that Petraeus would replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan: Charles Dharapak/AP)