[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/15/art.demint.jpg caption="Senator DeMint of South Carolina urged Obama to hold a hearing on Afghanistan."]
(CNN)—Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who has been a surrogate for John McCain’s presidential bid, formally asked Barack Obama Tuesday to hold a hearing to discuss NATO’s role in Afghanistan when he returns from his trip to the war-torn nation later this month.
“The success of Afghanistan is critical to the future of NATO and vital to our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” DeMint wrote in a letter sent to the Illinois senator. “As the situation in Afghanistan grows more tense, it is time for us to hold a hearing on the mission there.”
Obama chairs the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. DeMint, of South Carolina is ranking member on that subcommittee, which has oversight of military operations in Afghanistan.
The presumptive Democratic nominee has been criticized by members of the Republican Party and former rival Senator Hillary Clinton for not holding more hearings on Afghanistan during his time at the helm of the subcommittee.
Full letter and UPDATE after the jump
On Tuesday, McCain again highlighted Obama’s limited time on the ground in the Middle East, and lack of firsthand experience in Afghanistan. “He is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time,” the presumptive Republican nominee said at a campaign event in New Mexico.
Obama will travel to both Afghanistan and Iraq later this month alongside Republican and fellow Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Democratic Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator Joe Biden's office released the following statement:
“The reason Senator Obama didn’t chair a NATO and Afghanistan subcommittee hearing is because I did, as Chairman of the Committee. Sen. DeMint should know that when it comes to the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, we hold those hearings at the full committee level,” said Senator Joe Biden.
The Honorable Barack Obama
Subcommittee on European Affairs
Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Obama,
In the coming days, I understand you will travel to Afghanistan for the first time and visit with a few of our European partners. Like my travels to these regions, I trust this trip will afford you a unique opportunity to see the facts on the ground firsthand and witness the work of our brave men and women who sacrifice so much to secure our freedom.
In February, I had the privilege of visiting and talking with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. These brave Americans serve their country with incredible passion, pride and courage. As you know, NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) plays an integral part in the current operations and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
There are concerns about the imbalance between some European nations, their level of commitment to the fight in Afghanistan, and caveats these nations place on their forces in theater. I trust you will become well acquainted with these issues. The Bush Administration has worked hard to maintain and increase the level of forces our European allies have committed to the fight.
However, despite these successes, I am concerned our Subcommittee has not held any hearings on these issues over the last two years. With oversight of NATO relations and its role in Afghanistan, I believe it is time for us to focus closely on these issues. As Ranking Member of your Subcommittee on European Affairs, I would welcome a chance to hold a hearing on NATO's mission in Afghanistan upon your return.
The success of Afghanistan is critical to the future of NATO and vital to our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. As the situation in Afghanistan grows more tense, it is time for us to hold a hearing on the mission there. I look forward to working with you to schedule this hearing.
United States Senator