Hunter takes on McCain over Afghan commander nomination

“That's interesting to me. The guy that's going to take over the command has not even been included in those conversations,” McCain said while questioning Dunford. “So, you are a blank slate”

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Hunter responded Friday by saying that Dunford was “exactly” what the mission in Afghanistan needs.

“In all due respect to Senator McCain or any other senator questioning his nomination, any criticism of General Dunford is unfounded and inconsistent with his sterling record of accomplishment as one of the military’s top officers,” Hunter said in his statement.

The statement was unusual in that a junior House member typically does not take on one of his own party’s senior senators.

But Hunter, who is a retired Marine, has a personal history with Dunford. He said he served alongside the four-star Marine general in Iraq in 2003, where he said Dunford earned the nickname “Fighting Joe.”

“If America wants to bring Afghanistan home, then General Dunford is the man for the job,” Hunter said.

While McCain questioned Dunford’s qualifications at the hearing, he made no indication that he would not ultimately confirm Dunford, as he has done in the past with other nominees and is threatening to do with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, should she be tapped for Secretary of State.

McCain’s critical line of questioning focused on the way the U.S. drawdown will occur in 2013 and 2014. McCain has argued that U.S. troop levels should remain at 68,000 through 2014, when NATO is supposed to hand over security control to Afghan forces.

Others say that the drawdown should continue gradually through 2013.

Allen, whose own nomination to become NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, is on hold while he is under investigation by the Pentagon Inspector General for “potentially inappropriate” communications, is set to soon deliver an assessment to the Pentagon on the recommended path forward.

Allen was supposed to be at the confirmation hearing with Dunford, but it became a solo hearing when Allen’s nomination was put on hold last week.