Retired General Replaced by Lawyer as Special Envoy to Iraq, Syria

Brett McGurk will be Barack Obama's envoy tasked with coordinating the US campaign against the Islamic State group (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
Brett McGurk will be Barack Obama's envoy tasked with coordinating the US campaign against the Islamic State group (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

President Obama announced Friday that he was replacing retired Marine Gen. John Allen with lawyer and diplomat Brett McGurk as his special envoy for Iraq and Syria with a wide-ranging portfolio that includes holding together a coalition against ISIS.

Allen, who reportedly had clashed with the military over the now-defunct $500 million effort to create an army of Syrian volunteers, was departing after 13 months as special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, another name for the terrorist group.

In a statement, Obama offered his "profound gratitude" to Allen for his efforts to build from the start "a robust international coalition that would undertake a wide range of political, diplomatic, military, economic and other efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL."

Word that Allen, 61, the former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, was leaving leaked in September as Russia prepared to enter Syria, Syrian refugees flooded Europe and the U.S. plan to vet, train and equip a force of 5,000 Syrian fighters was falling apart.

Allen was expected to take a post with the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based research organization.

McGurk, 42, has been serving as Allen's deputy. He also holds the post of deputy assistant secretary of State for Iraq and Iran and has frequently briefed the press on White House conference calls. Early in his career, McGurk was a law clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Willian Rehnquist.

Allen continues to be dogged by the fallout from the resignation of retired Army Gen. David Petraeus as CIA Director over his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered Allen to be deposed in a lawsuit by Jill Kelley involving leaks from the FBI investigation that led to Petraeus' misdemeanor conviction for allowing Broadwell to see classified information.

Kelley has claimed that she received threatening e-mails from Broadwell. Allen knew Kelley socially while based in Tampa, Florida, and frequently exchanged emails with her.

McGurk's appointment does not require Senate approval. In 2012, McGurk was nominated to become ambassador to Iraq but the nomination was withdrawn over his relationship with a Wall Street Journal reporter whom he later married after divorcing.

In his statement, Obama said he had asked McGurk "to work closely with my national security team to strengthen our partnership with Iraq and work intensively with regional partners to bring an end to the civil war in Syria, which continues to fuel ISIL and other extremist groups."

--Richard Sisk can be reached at

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