McCain visits rebels in Syria
May 27th, 2013
01:22 PM ET
11 months ago

McCain visits rebels in Syria

(CNN) - Sen. John McCain visited rebels in Syria on Monday, his communications director confirmed to CNN, making the Arizona Republican the highest ranking elected official from the United States to visit the war-torn country.

Brian Rogers confirmed a report that originally appeared on The Daily Beast, which indicated McCain entered Syria through Turkey, and remained in the country for several hours.

Related: Worries about Syrian civil war on the rise, poll shows

While in Syria, McCain met with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, according to Mouaz Moustafa with the Washington-based Syrian Emergency Task Force that was involved in planning the trip. He spent about an hour meeting with Free Syrian Amry commanders from various parts of the country including Aleppo, Homs, and Idlib.

McCain is the leading voice in Congress for a greater U.S. role in ending Syria's civil war, which has been waged for more than two years. He has suggested establishing "safe zones" for Syria's rebels and taking out the regime's air assets, along with providing lethal weapons to Syria's opposition.

In their meeting with McCain, leaders of the Syrian rebel forces pressed the United States to provide them with weapons to continue their fight against Syrian President Bashar al Assad. They also called for establishing no-fly zones and for airstrikes against Assad's regime, according to the Daily Beast's report.

His visit came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to meet in Paris regarding Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. For months during the Syrian war, Russia appeared to be supporting the country's president, Bashar al-Assad. But that tide seems to be turning, at least gaining some wiggle room for the Russians to help broker an end to the violence.

Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force called McCain's visit "an incredibly important trip and trips like this need to happen more frequently.

"It was very important because one of the biggest arguments against supporting the opposition is not knowing who they are. So being able to sit face-to face with these commanders brings a much higher level of confidence in who they are," he said.

The U.N. estimates that more than 70,000 Syrians have been killed since anti-government protests in March 2011 led to a fierce government crackdown, an armed uprising and a bloody civil war. The war has uprooted a quarter of the country's 22 million civilians.

Republicans and Democrats alike have called on President Barack Obama to ramp up support for Syrian rebels, who now receive nonlethal aid like food and medicine from the United States. In early April that aid was stepped up to include equipment such as body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment that is considered defensive in nature.

Long an advocate of a more pronounced American effort in Syria, McCain has previously visited camps in Jordan that have harbored massive waves of Syrian refugees. He described one of those camps last month on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"This woman who was a schoolteacher said, 'Sen. McCain, do you see these children here? They're going to take revenge on those people who refused to help them,' " McCain recalled. "They're angry and bitter. And that legacy could last for a long time too, unless we assist them."

But others, including lawmakers from both parties and Obama's administration, have said American arms flowing into Syria could end up in the hands of terrorists.

Officials also say that Iranian-backed militias and Hezbollah units could be operating in the country and potentially infiltrating the rebel opposition.

– CNN's Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report


Filed under: John McCain • Syria
soundoff (639 Responses)
  1. Pat in IL

    McCain is such a hateful crazy that I hope he doesn't make things worse. Also, making up school teacher quotes is not. Helpful reporting of his visit.

    May 27, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  2. BJ

    So Obama gives the same rebels 143 million dollars in aid.
    McCain visits them today. And he is old washed up and pure evil.
    This is why I stay out of politics. 90% of you are clueless on how government works.

    May 27, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  3. gino

    Johnny boy. Who elected you President? I thought we went over that.

    May 27, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  4. glenn

    he worries about civil war when ours has not been finalized. lincoln died and jonnie has not come marching home.

    May 27, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  5. BJ

    So Obama gives the same rebels 143 million dollars in aid.
    McCain visits them today and gets blasted. You guys are smart.

    May 27, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  6. freedom fan

    No way.

    May 27, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  7. kommy

    Lets pray that they will not take him hostage and he will not wind up in another Vietcong Hilton.

    May 27, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  8. Tim

    Now I know he's really senile! He'll be lucky if he comes back alive.

    May 27, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  9. jetfuel4

    John....you lost me on the gun vote. Nobody likes you on either side of the isle....get OUT of there and retire.

    May 27, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  10. Kerry

    Stay out of this war. The Middle East and Africa have to learn to get along with each other before they can even consider getting along with others. Let them battle it out until they finally come to the conclusion that war is worse than making friends and compromising. Blaming their problems on others is a big part of their problem. We have nothing to do with why they hate and kill each other. But if we get involved we will become the whole problem in their eyes because they need scapegoats. Our hands are bloody enough.

    May 27, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  11. OMG-7

    What's wrong with US? Get this fool off the stage already ... he is the main reason why Obama became president and that fact alone would should be enough to send him into retirement.

    Memo to John McCain: We don't need no more stinkin wars to consume our soldiers, while further destroying the nation's wealth. Just STOP the war mongering – your record on war sucks! Let the Muslims solve their own religious problems over there.

    May 27, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  12. gary

    send mccane over there with a gun .... not US innocent kids

    May 27, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  13. Kerry

    Stay out of this war. The Middle East and Africa have to learn to get along with each other before they can even consider getting along with others. Let them battle it out until they finally come to the conclusion that war is worse than making friends and compromising. Blaming their problems on others is a big part of their problem. But if we get involved we will become the whole problem in their eyes because they need scapegoats.

    May 27, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  14. Portland tony

    Senator McCain obviously doesn't get that this "war" is not about good guys vs bad.....Just the Sunni rebels vs the Shia Muslim incumbent sect. A No win for US involvement

    May 27, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  15. DrNo

    What would President McCain have said or done if Senator Obama had visited a Middle Eastern nation in the middle of a violent civil war? He would have had a nervous breakdown and the GOP would have called Obama a statesman without portfolio!!. Next step?? Jimmy Carter pays a visit.

    May 27, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  16. dean morse

    And John McCain is the perfect government official to lead the charge. He can be front and center with his very own AK-47 and blast away to his hearts content. Have a ball, John!

    May 27, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  17. MrRickinNH

    Ellie... The chick from NH is Kelly... and I would love to see her boots on the ground over there! She loves combat and guns... the only senator from New England to vote NO on background checks with 89% of the state supporting it. The GOP just doesn't get it... the rest of McCain's party is trying to cut spending... someone should let him know!

    May 27, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  18. Dale

    McCain is bought and paid for by insider defense contractors,

    May 27, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  19. kommy

    This is totally senile, what benefit for US is to build a Shia axis Lebanon-Syria-Iraq-Iran? This is not sleeping in bed with a devil, this is a political suicide.

    May 27, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  20. Mark

    I'm glad Obama won in 2008. If he hadn't, President McCain would have 100K+ US troops on the ground in Syria right now with hundreds dying per month, just like at the height of the Iraq War. Keep our money and troops home. We can't and shouldn't save the world.

    May 27, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  21. platofish

    At one point I would have voted for John McCain...... now I think he is rapidly becoming an embarrassment. Time to give it up John. Stay home, tend your garden and perhaps write a book.

    May 27, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  22. john

    Hope he stays there.

    May 27, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  23. walt1948

    So where are we (the USA) getting enough money to be helping everyone? Everytime I turn around I see more AID being offered . Let's Take care of our own... Okay! Geesh!

    May 27, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  24. Larry L

    @Kevin

    "I am not arguing that we should necessarily get involved, but we do have a significant precedent (in the form of the Libyan civil war) for US Military support of rebels that did NOT result in an occupation by US troops of (as far as I know) loss of US life."
    ==============================
    We've been fighting for 11 years and used up our people and our resources. When we offer military support w/o occupation how do you think that support is provided? It's done by U.S. Military personnel and equipment – and tax dollars. The logistical effort for these operations is huge and not without significant costs in dollars and lives.

    May 27, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. D

    He is right they will take revenge on people that refuse to help them Obama will sent arms to Egypt f16s us tanks arms and men to Africa but not to the freedom fighters 80000 dead how many more? Age and wisdom go to Syria Macain wantsto stop this war No term limits

    May 27, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
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