Outgoing Africa Command commander US General William Ward (R) reaches out to shake hands with his successor US General Carter Ham take part in the AFRICOM change of command ceremony in this March 9, 2011 file photo in Sindelfingen near Stuttgart, Germany. — File Photo byAFP

WASHINGTON: A four-star general who headed US Africa Command has been demoted amid charges he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on pricey travel, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demoted General William “Kip” Ward, who was asked to reimburse $82,000 for having inappropriately used Pentagon travel funds, a senior defense official said on condition of anonymity.

The four-star general “will retire at the rank of lieutenant general,” a three-star post, a second senior defense official said.

US media reports have said the travel mishaps included bringing Ward's wife on extended business trips. One in Bermuda involved a suite for $747 a night at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. And his wife also allegedly made unauthorized use of armored vehicles.

Ward, the first Africom commander from 2007-2011 based in Stuttgart, has denied the allegations.

A Defense Department Inspector General's report released earlier this year found that Ward took an 11-day trip to Washington and Atlanta with his military entourage that cost $129,000 and of which only three days were for official business. The primary purpose of the trip was personal.

Ward's wife traveled with the general on military aircraft during 52 of 79 trips reviewed by investigators, according to the report, which also found that Ward extended his trips seven times for personal reasons in which he was reimbursed for travel expenses.

Ward's demotion comes after the commander of allied troops in Afghanistan was dragged into the sex scandal that brought down CIA director David Petraeus.

General John Allen was placed under investigation after FBI agents probing email threats sent by the biographer and alleged mistress of Petraeus stumbled upon a vast trove of messages Allen sent to another married woman at the heart of the scandal.

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