THE David Petraeus sex scandal has escalated into a national crisis as "flirtatious" correspondence emerged between America's top commander in Afghanistan and one of two women implicated in the row that has forced the CIA chief's resignation.
General John Allen was placed under investigation after the FBI uncovered a cache of 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails with Jill Kelley, the woman whose complaints about email harassment led to the discovery that Mr Petraeus was having an affair.
The messages were discovered by agents looking into Mr Petraeus's affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell and forced the White House to postpone plans to promote Gen Allen as the next Nato supreme allied commander for Europe.
The official said the correspondence consisted of a "few hundred" emails that were mostly about "routine stuff".
However another official, explaining the need for an investigation, said the email exchanges might be construed as "flirtatious" and "potentially inappropriate".
Mrs Kelley (37) is described as a "vivacious" social planner who organised parties for officers at the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, where both Gen Allen and Mr Petraeus (60), a former four-star general, served together between 2008 and 2010.
Both men became close to her and even agreed to write letters testifying to the character of her twin sister, Natalie, as she went through an ugly divorce battle in Washington DC.
Mrs Kelley provoked the investigation that led to the downfall of Mr Petraeus after she complained about receiving harassing anonymous emails that were traced back to Mrs Broadwell (40), the CIA chief's mistress and the author of a book about his career.
Mrs Broadwell may also have sent an anonymous email to Gen Allen as part of her alleged campaign to tarnish Mrs Kelley's reputation in the eyes of the two military commanders, CNN reported.
During the course of the investigation, FBI officials searched Mrs Kelley's inbox, as part of a policy to cast a wide net in cybercrimes cases, and discovered messages from Gen Allen, according to the ' New York Times'.
An aide close to Gen Allen said that Mrs Kelley was "good friends" with the general's wife, Kathy, and speculated that a misunderstanding may have arisen as a result of Gen Allen's habit of addressing women as "sweetheart".
"He's embarrassed by this," the senior official told the 'Washington Post', adding: "He's never been alone with her. Did he have an affair? No."
But another defence department official said the size of the alleged correspondence raised suspicions of "conduct unbecoming of an officer".
The US military has strict rules limiting non-business contacts and a criminal code that lists adultery as an offence.
Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary, praised Gen Allen for his work in Afghanistan and said he would remain in position as head of the International Stablisation Assistance Force (ISAF) until the "facts are determined".
"His leadership has been instrumental in achieving the significant progress that ISAF, working alongside our Afghan partners, has made in bringing greater security to the Afghan people," Mr Panetta said.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said President Barack Obama "has faith in General Allen and believes he is doing and has done an excellent job at ISAF".
Tommy Vietor, the national security spokesman, confirmed that Mr Obama had delayed Gen Allen's nomination to the Nato post, adding that he "remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan". (© Daily Telegraph, London)