(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
John, I love you like a father but it's time you retire. This is a job for the State Department and the President. Term limits is probably the next piece of legislation you should champion.
This man is the definition of stupid. We need to stay out of Syria for as long as possible. There are NO WINNERS in this conflict. We're actually better off with Assad in power as bad as this sounds. The rebels aren't even united themselves. You have Al Qaeda infleunce in one section and then another that truly wants the best for the country. It's difficult to know who is who. They are better off trying to reason with Assad to make things fairer in the country. We cannot afford to pull another Iraq. And now, they probably wish that Saddam Hussein was back in power to keep the country stable.
United Nations, what do the rest of these countries do? Why must the U.S. always shed blood. Let the other countries do their part.
Step 1: We need to win this one in Syria just like the one we won in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Step 2: Then we can fight the winners who will have the training, the arms and the money we gave them so they could overnight become democracies
Step 3: We'll repeat steps 1 and 2 until one day we'll wake up and see the Arabs only wanted to change dictators for a while.
Step 4: We'll take in hundreds of thousands of Syrians who mysteriously included a few thousand jihadists.
Step 5: Kerry will form a hedge fund to help all of them to billions of US taxpayer money like he's proposing for the "poor" jihadist Palestinians. Oh the poor Palestinians. They work so hard to get pity, make false reports, bomb their neighbors and pray for us to help. Oh the poor Arabs and Moslems.
Oh I hope he says, he can be the rebel general and Lindsay Graham can be the colonel and that woman who is always standing behind them not sayings anything...ooooh what's her name, she's the chick from New Hampshire, whatever, she can be their back up singer.
Oh dear. The Rebels in Syria have questionable credibility. Indeed, the situation in Syria is both dire and sad but there are countless rebel groups, each with their own agendas and some of them are quite nefarious characters. Mr. McCain, while well-intentioned does not have the cerebral capacity to work out this very complex issue and I am afraid that he is stirring the wrong pot. He may cause more trouble. He still wants to be a hero but a hero knows when he is ill-equipped and is never premature in his actions. He waits until he knows who the real villain is. Outside of the U.S. John McCain is looked at as a bit of a buffoon who remains embittered that he allowed the GOP to saddle him with...ahem....what's her name, thus losing him the election. He wants old glory. But I think he is just old.
In Response to what Don just posted, McCain should mind Arizona/s business.
NO THANKS. Keep our troops home. That whole region is already messed up. No need to drag us in further
Johnny McCain you are spending my tax $$$ for what????
Just another GOP'er who would rather spend money killing people in foreign lands than provide healthcare for his own citizens.
Today's GOP is completely dysfunctional.
Stay out of it McCain!!!
All you're gonna do his help drag us into another middle eastern war.
Then then again, isn't that what the GOP does best??
Has a well-established reputation for making very bad judgments.
It's time for him to go to a retirement home. Maybe the Happy Home.
the guy is nuts
Keep sticking our nose in Muslim countries business and expect no terrorism on our soil?! Where is the guarantee that Assad will be replaced with a better, non-extremist government?
Crazy old McCain hanging out with his terrorist buddies? And why doesn't his terrorist buddies want peace and a diplomatic solution? Because his Muslim Brotherhood buddies would not be able to steal this country the way they did in Egypt and soon to be in Libya! I am sure arming these terrorist we come back and bite us much worse than arming the mujahedin in the 80's!
This old man is now really pushing his disrespect for our way of governing to its limit. He is NOT the authority on who we go to war with, when, how and why. He should be consulting the Commander in Chief, not another Muslim organization who just wants our weapons and knowledge so they can overthrow and government and live in a state of war for the next 300 years. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! Stay out of the Middle East you Repuclicon war mongers!!
"Provide them with weapons".....enough said. No way should we ever provide them with weapons. They need to figure it out for themselves what to do about their war. I'm very tired of funding other countries war's when we have plenty to deal with in our OWN country.
I see a lot of posts about not wanting to get dragged down into yet another war. I don't question the validity of that sentiment, and 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.
Why did McCain just join the rebels and take up arms to fight? The man loves wars so much, might as well.
Advocating for lethal arms to flow to a rag-tag "freedom fighters" appears to indicate McCain and others like him have not learned a thing about America's blunders in the past. Anyone remember Sadam Hussain, Osama Bin Ladin, and others? McCain can visit all the rebels he wants, I'm glad he's not the one making decisions for US foreign policy.
These know-it-alls just throw out a bunch of radical ideas without knowing what it takes to implement. No fly zone? How? And there's the list of everything the "rebels" want, how is that different from declaring war with Syria? Of course that's what they want – can't finish a fight you started, just find someone else who would so you can reap the benefits.
lets not spend one more dollar in those unholy lands for that evil religion of islam. instead round up all the muslims drop them off there and let them fight it out. let them kill each other that way they wont be blaming us about our troops killing their people. let the muslims take care of their own muslim problems
When the Syrians decided to have a civil war they could have fought peacefully, and had made changes, no they picked up arms against there own countrymen. No country is perfect and atrocities are made in America , but when you pick up arms it's all on you. You can't ask Americans to come free Syrians from issues that in the end are economically related and only the rich are going to benefit. I am sure Gun manufactures are needing a war so profits can resume. I say if you are there Mr. McCain Broker a peace you ran for president is that not what a president would do.
Do the people of Arizona have to pay for this little self-serving sightseeing trip?
Grandpa John should understand that Pres. Obama has no boy to send down there and fight. John and the once called GOP contender (Mitt) have at least 12 in total. Just send all of them there, no one will say anything or stop you to do so.
It's got to be dementia: he forgot about that recession, the election he lost, the other one that happened last year, his breakfast.....
McCain is an old has-been. He needs to retire and sit in the shade. WE have no business in Syria, they all hate us. Let them settle this their way.