(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
I thought Republicans weren't into "nation building" ... You know, like GW Bush swore up and down during the 2000 presidential campaign ... and then promptly started planning on how to invade Iraq to take over their oil and then use Iraq as a launching pad against Iran ...
Republicans are LOUSY at military and foreign policy. This is not a Democrat speaking, this is someone who has observed HISTORY and FACTS.
ole man McCain trying to drag america into another Muslim war, don't you conservatives just love it! We will arm them, train them, give them access to technologies and you will just have a peachy old time liking you some Islams! BaWaHAHAHAHA! Its just too damn funny how you people talk out of two different sides of your mouth all the time.
Sounds like it's time to go over there and get that al-Assad guy.
So then, will Mitt go visit Iran, next?
We must stay far away from the people who would love to see all of us dead!! They will be in the US soon enough making our lives miserable....... Don't go looking for more trouble.....We have plenty on our plates.....Some special interest money must be there for the taking.... Is Palin with him?
McCain wants American boots on the ground in Syria soooo badly, no matter what he says. We need to get out and stay out of the Middle East and Africa.
McCain, retire already! You are completely clueless as you were ten years ago when you voted for the Cheney/Bush/Rumsfield debacle!
Every time we get involved with one oft these things, we get more disliked, we get in more trouble, no one appreciates it, it usually kills a bunch of American military, and it costs us billions.
What a farce.
Senator McCain did not win the election, so he is not President. His visit is designed to try usurp influence over a situation he can't effect. The President sets foreign policy and it is the Executive branch that recognizes other nations and thier leaders. McCain may want to get involved in another ill advised foreign adventure, his record is replete with those mistakes, but he is wasting his time and energy. We have problems here that him and his party are unable or unwilling to deal with. He should stay home and work on those.
You would think that McCain would have learned the folly of American involvement in civil wars in farway countries from his experience in Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan. Things never end up the way we expect them to.
We keep feeding the opposition and wonder why incidents like Benghazi occur. McCain is lobbied bythe corporation that will benefit from this.
Waaaaay too many narcissists in politics today....on BOTH sides of the pathetic politico fence. Want REAL change next election? VOTE the 2 party farce out of office, and vote Independent politicians into office. Remember, ALL the problems this nation has today is due to YOU the voter. You get what you deserve.
First of all, this is the last person who needs to be going to Syria, for any reason at all.
Secondly, isn't it nice that rich old white folks can just, on a whim, decide to fly to another country and "promote peace" all for the sake of making their resume look better?
Not that it matters, in his case.
We should be remembering and honoring our war dead today; not looking to get involved in more wars.... that have NOTHING do with us. If the Turks and Saudis and Lebanese are concerned, and it's affecting them, THEY need to do something about it. The US should not send our troops, period.
I vote McCain should be water-boarded when he returns. As a former soldier, how do you undermine the authority of the POTUS & the Secretary of State by making what I'm sure was an un-authorized official visit to a country at war? I wonder how much US taxpayers paid for this visit?
The quote from the school teacher was beyond ignorant and sharing that as a reason to get involved in another war – is beyond stupid. Were the Syrian people trying to help Americans when we were attacked? It's unfortunate what's happening in the country but they need to ask their fellow Middle-East neighbors for assistance. Enough US soldiers have died attempting to police the world.
With the draw-down in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American war industry is losing money.
The Republicans are concerned, so they send McCain to do some market testing.
Republicans like McCain are pretty good at spending our money on insane wars (unbudgeted). I would suggest that it would be better to spend our money on repairing our own bridges and infrastructure here in The United States. That policy would create jobs, rebuild infrastructure, and increase federal tax revenue.
So he met with a handful of "commanders" for an hour, and now thinks we should arm them? Um. How about NO!
If the picture accompanying this story is current and was taken in Syria, what in the hell are US soldiers doing there?
......RICHARD.........WE CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WHOLE WORLD!!!!!!.Haven't we lost enough of our young men to the wars that other nations are fighting?/...Haven't we put enough money over there to leave part of this country in poverty.........We cannot continually fight the worlds wars.....Are you volunteering to go or send your money over there?......I doubt it!!!.....We have been there so many times but we can't be there forever!!!!!!!
I want to give a shout out to all the Muslim shills I read here. Secondly, why don't we take all these guns we have "confiscated" and bought off of the public through buy back and send them to Syrian rebels? It's a no cost solution. If you believe weapons cause violence, then, by all means, send them to the Syrians who want to commit violence against one another. If you don't believe these confiscated guns cause violence, why not send them to Syrians to protect themselves from violence erupting? We could have our cake and eat it too on this gun control issue.
He is doing the right think, USA is a super power. Why do you think Russia and China are so involved in this, don't they have their own problems? This is a strategic area, US must get involved.
That's why McCain should have been president. The syrian war would have been over by now. For 2 years the world has watched while the Assad regime has murdered more than 70,000 civilians using all sorts of weapons. What is the difference between Saddam and Assad? Both killed their people, both used chemical weapons, both are dictators. We took out Saddam, we helped take out the Libyan dictator too but we have done nothing about the syrian regime. Didn't Pres. Obama draw the line at the use of chemical weapons? Well the syrian regime has used them and Obama is still in denial.
To be realistic, the McCain's visit is just a way of putting pressure on the Russians for the upcoming meeting about Syria. The USA doesn't need to put boots on the ground. It only needs to bomb the regime bases, hunt their tanks,destroy their planes and arm the rebels. The rest is history.
McCain has always supported the troops with loyalty.