McCain visits rebels in Syria
May 27th, 2013
01:22 PM ET
10 years 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.

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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. aldawood

    God bless you Mr. McCain !!! And God bless America !!!
    Help the Syrian people. Bashar Assad is a criminal who is killing women and children and innocent people. More than 100,000 men and women and children are killed. He and the Iranian criminals and Hezbollah are slaughtering the women and children.
    Thank you Mr. McCain. You deserve to be a president of America because you are a brave man.
    And many thanks to Israel for helping the Syrian people by destroying Hezbollah and the Iranian weapons.
    God bless America and God bless Israel !!!!

    May 28, 2013 05:21 am at 5:21 am |
  2. gael christophe mockleyn

    I thought he wasn't supposed to negotiate with terrorist?

    May 28, 2013 05:22 am at 5:22 am |
  3. DL

    Two points to make! 1st, Senator McCain is making a very big mistake. Any weapons or material support given to Rebels will find their way to Terrorist organizations which will attack US Citizens or other Western targets. I feel for the innocent civilians suffering in Syria, but this is a Muslim issue.

    Secondly, all Muslim leaders in the Middle East should be VERY Worried about the "Good Intentions" of Western Countries "donating" military ARMS, because they could end up being used to overthrow their own country (I.E. Saudi Arabi)

    May 28, 2013 05:46 am at 5:46 am |
  4. Mario

    how come McCain always do the crazy stuff, Putin is right this guy is a crazy/lunatic and should been lockup in a cell

    May 28, 2013 06:01 am at 6:01 am |
  5. Perry

    Usles we get international supporter should not get involved.

    May 28, 2013 06:13 am at 6:13 am |

    How did he fly ? Military? Commercial?or Private? And who paid for his food and lodging if he lodging?

    May 28, 2013 06:50 am at 6:50 am |
  7. bluemountain

    It will be interesting to see how this loose canon effects the GOP, in a few minutes we're going to hear from the crazies how McCain is an agent of Obama's planted to create "disunion" in the GOP. Thanks John , for creating chaos in the already defunct GOP. They deserve it.

    May 28, 2013 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  8. emskadittle

    who is paying for this trip

    May 28, 2013 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  9. it must be said

    Obama has provide ZERO leadership on Syria. He's even pretending to lead from behind. All he has managed to do in the middle east is set the region of fire, get all our allies over thrown and handed several countries over to islamic radicals. Great job there Barry. Just more of the same failure we see on the domestic. side.

    May 28, 2013 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  10. ronvan

    This is just one of our many "elected children" that needs to RETIRE! YET, WE continue to re-elect them? While I can salute him for his service to our country, I personally beleive that he still wants revenge for what he went through.
    IF anyone should realize the terror & tragedies of war it sould be McCain! BUT he revels in it, supports them, where ever all the time. SAD

    May 28, 2013 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  11. Greg C.

    I applaud Sen. McCain's willingness to place his own life in peril to meet face to face with Syrians that are fighting against the Assad regime and against Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters. Directing any military aid to the right people is critical if we are to provide additional "direct" support. Now the the EU has removed the last obstacle in supplying military aid; this will ensure there is a multi-lateral effort as it should be. No fly zones are next.

    May 28, 2013 07:20 am at 7:20 am |
  12. elvis

    Photo op.

    Get to work on your broken congress FOR the people here, John McCain.

    May 28, 2013 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  13. RonC

    Only thing missing in your response is to take his BFF Lindsey Graham with him.

    May 28, 2013 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  14. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA aka Take Back the House aka No Redemption Votes

    Safe travels senator!

    May 28, 2013 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
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