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. CraigH

    Stay home and work on your retirement McCain.

    May 27, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  2. 6797777

    Finally he is going to go see for himself what is going on there . He may just change his mind .

    May 27, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  3. EnoughAlready

    The U.S. once again playing World Police in a region where anti-American sentiment runs deep and affirmative US engagement is a gift that extremists like Assad dream of for recruitment purposes. What could possibly go wrong? Kerry is playing this right in strategic discussions with the Russians. McCain is probably one of the only war-happy GOPers with the sophistication to see the bigger picture; that is, the 20-year consequences of an American-led "assault-weapons-for-everybody!" campaign in Syria. That's the Republican Party for you: Proudly putting defense contractors first since Ronald Reagan.

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

    I was gonna say "just another repug warwonger looking for another place to bomb to keep the military/industrial complex fat and sassy...........but............looks like you guys have got it covered.

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

    Really! Was his sidekick Graham with him? Can his wife not keep him at home?

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

    I'd like to see Republican Congressmen working on a budget, really reforming Social Security, tweaking Obamacare to increase the coverage, passing legislation to create jobs, and worrying about something besides protecting the rich and getting re-elected. No more obstructing progress, no more filibusters, and no more distorted political scandels.

    We've been at war for 11 years and the Warriors are worn out. If McCain wants war let him propose reinstatement of the military draft – with no deferments for gender, college, or educational obligations. Empty out those prep schools and private colleges as everybody gets to put a dog in the fight. Let's see how the fat-cats like those odds.

    May 27, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  7. Nick

    It's called a CIVIL WAR (nothing to do with being civil of course) for a reason. Don't make this international

    May 27, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  8. Mark

    I used to have some respect for him long ago but it still begs the question – is there any war he doesnt like?

    May 27, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  9. Shellback

    Stay the hell out of Syria!

    May 27, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  10. kurt

    Aren't the rebels and Taliban fighting together? (as reportex) Why should we help assist a group who's comrads killed American soldiers?

    May 27, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  11. winchester74

    Anything McCain can do to end this war will be a good thing – and while he's at it he should work on ending our involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    May 27, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  12. Sally

    Kevin, this war would be entirely different from the conflict in the Libyan war. Syria has an air force and a much more organizied and well equipped army. We do not have to insert ourselves in every war on the globe. Let Russia express their displeasure with Bashar al-Assad like China did with North Korea. That certainly got Kim Un's attention. The US has done ENOUGH!

    May 27, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  13. Fix it

    If we go into Syria, we go all the way, takeover the country for ten years completely without a karzai hamstringing our movement. We are 100% in charge. We Setup up the govt, run it and when we feel the country is very stable, start putting the locals in charge. We put local leaders in charge too soon, they botch it up because their cultural viewpoints got offended and we investigate ourselves to find out how we can be nicer so we dont hurt their feelings. Boo hoo, we'll never stabalize anything if we keep that up. That crap has got to stop. Puts too many US Soldiers at risk.

    May 27, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  14. mocvdengineer

    Come on John, time to retire isn't it. Going into Syria would be a huge disaster.

    May 27, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. Salero21

    McCain the irrelevant is struggling to stay afloat and relevant but is drowning in irrelevance. A dinosaur of a bygone era. Whose only claim to be in politics, is that he was once shot down while flying bombing missions over a poor and miserable country that never attacked the US.

    May 27, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  16. John R. Grace

    There was a time when I really felt Senator McCain understood things but now I wonder. One would think his personal experiences with another country's civil war in Viet Nam would have taught him there is no up-side for the US here.

    May 27, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  17. stonekeyboards

    The US does NOT need another conflict to get involved in... We're not out of the two messes we're in already!
    Why would this country want to get in another mess????

    May 27, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  18. Econ for dummies

    We cant let Iran come away with a win, but at the same time we do not want our weapons falling into the wrong hands.

    May 27, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  19. Chris

    I am unsure if this is a wise move. The FSA is allegedly rumoured to be either allied with or an arm of Al Quaeda.

    May 27, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  20. Michael

    I hope he isn't taken prisoner again.
    Come home John and move into assisted living.

    May 27, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  21. Chuckie

    Just as we helped end the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon (we tried that one once before), and others. Just how we helped end poverty and ignorance in Hati, Nicaragua, the Philippines, etc. Just how we helped win lasting global peace in the war to end all wars, WWI.

    May 27, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  22. shistone

    So...........I guess he wants president Obama to get involved and then block all the tax money to pay for it. Oh yeah...on credit.........just like Iraq.

    May 27, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  23. Matt

    McCain should have enlisted while there if he believes in their cause so much.

    May 27, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  24. ALLuh

    McCain is an old fool, wanting more war, the muslim pigs have to decide their own fate, the American taxpayer does not care about Syria, Israel, or any nasty muslim stone aged goat buggering woman beating pigs.

    May 27, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  25. ALLuh

    McCain is an old fool, wanting more war, the muslim pigs have to decide their own fate, the American taxpayer does not care about Syria, Israel, or any nasty muslim stone aged goat buggering woman beating neanderthals.

    May 27, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
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