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U.S. Point Man for Global Effort to Defeat the Islamic State Heads for Exit

U.S. officials say retired Marine Gen. John Allen expected to call it quits after a year of trying to win battlegrounds and corral coalition partners against the Islamic State.

Retired General John Allen, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 26, 2015. The U.S. and allies began airstrikes on the Iraqi city of Tikrit, supporting Iranian-backed Shiite militias seeking to expel Islamic State fighters from the area. Asked whether Iran could end up controlling Iraq, Allen said, "I don't think that's going to be the case. In the end, Iraq is an Arab country." Iranians, he said, "are a different people." Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Retired General John Allen, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 26, 2015. The U.S. and allies began airstrikes on the Iraqi city of Tikrit, supporting Iranian-backed Shiite militias seeking to expel Islamic State fighters from the area. Asked whether Iran could end up controlling Iraq, Allen said, "I don't think that's going to be the case. In the end, Iraq is an Arab country." Iranians, he said, "are a different people." Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Retired General John Allen, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 26, 2015. The U.S. and allies began airstrikes on the Iraqi city of Tikrit, supporting Iranian-backed Shiite militias seeking to expel Islamic State fighters from the area. Asked whether Iran could end up controlling Iraq, Allen said, "I don't think that's going to be the case. In the end, Iraq is an Arab country." Iranians, he said, "are a different people." Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Obama administration’s top strategy man for defeating the Islamic State is handing off his duties after an agonizing year of some successes and even more setbacks against the Sunni extremist group that has terrorized much of Iraq and Syria, according to three U.S. officials.

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen took the newly-created post just over a year ago, in a sense returning to a former battleground against an old foe. As deputy commanding general of Marines in Iraq’s western Anbar Province from 2006 to 2008, Allen fought against the Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, during some of the bloodiest years of that war. But even before he took his current job, people close to Allen said he has struggled with continuing in public service due to the illness of his wife, Kathy.

It’s believed Allen, who also served as commanding general in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, is leaving his current position to take care of her.

The Obama administration’s top strategy man for defeating the Islamic State is handing off his duties after an agonizing year of some successes and even more setbacks against the Sunni extremist group that has terrorized much of Iraq and Syria, according to three U.S. officials.

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen took the newly-created post just over a year ago, in a sense returning to a former battleground against an old foe. As deputy commanding general of Marines in Iraq’s western Anbar Province from 2006 to 2008, Allen fought against the Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, during some of the bloodiest years of that war. But even before he took his current job, people close to Allen said he has struggled with continuing in public service due to the illness of his wife, Kathy.

It’s believed Allen, who also served as commanding general in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, is leaving his current position to take care of her.

Allen initially planned to stay in the job for six months but remained for more than a year, said his political adviser, Marc Chretien, who confirmed his departure.

“He has accomplished a lot in this past year as the envoy, and has put his life on hold,” Chretien told Foreign Policy. “Given that fact, he would like to return to it. … It is time he went back to being a private citizen.”

Another official close to Allen said he was expected to leave the State Department after the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting. President Barack Obama is expected to appeal to other world leaders in a speech there next Tuesday about combating violent extremism — the thrust of Allen’s job in facing down the Islamic State. That official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss plans that have not yet been announced.

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Allen “remains focused on his duties at the State Department, which is coordinating the coalition efforts against ISIL, and we don’t have any personnel announcements to make regarding his future. He remains at work.” ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State.

Allen has spent much of the last year on the unenviable task of trying to build consensus among 60 nations and diplomatic organizations of how to defeat the Islamic State. It’s a position that has, at times, forced confrontation with the White House, which has sought to limit its military mission against the extremist group even as foreign allies called for more troops, weapons, funding and even a broader definition of the Islamic State as its fight spread beyond Iraq and Syria.

Now, the U.S.-led effort to defeat and degrade the Islamic State is widely believed to have reached an intractable stalemate, and the Obama administration has openly acknowledged the failure of the Pentagon’s program to train and equip moderate members of the Syrian opposition. Last week, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin, conceded that the $500 million program, which planned to produce 4,500 Syrian rebels by the end of the year, had only succeeded in training a handful of fighters currently operating within the country.

But Allen racked up some successes too: Chief among them was a deal to increase U.S. access to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. The deal reached between Ankara and Washington in late July allowed the U.S. to reduce flight times on air strikes against Islamic State targets — U.S. aircraft had been flying from bases in Iraq or from ships in the Persian Gulf.

“Access to Turkish bases such as Incirlik air base will increase the coalition’s operational efficiency,” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said at the time.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where Allen enjoys fairly broad bipartisan support, appeared surprised by news of his plans to step down.

“I heard that, I don’t know any more about it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Foreign Policy. “My big question was why? …I thought he did a very good job.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said he was unaware of Allen’s impending departure but said he’d be sad to see him go. “He’s good, he’s very good and it will be hard to lose him,” King said.

It’s unclear who will fill Allen’s role. His deputy, Amb. Brett McGurk, has held key diplomatic posts in Iraq during the White House administrations of Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Senior reporter John Hudson contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Bloomberg

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