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. lejof

    So John McCain is negotiating with AQ now? That's rich. He should have taken a little time, first, to checkout the videos of these thugs that have been posted to liveleak. Nothing but snackbar, snackbar, choppy, choppy. Don't get me wrong, Assad's definitely an evil dude... but I'd be inclined to try and stay the ** out of that hornet's nest.

    May 27, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  2. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I have a suggestion...What if we arm the armies of the 22 member Arab league? Then we'd be more assured that the arms won't end up in the hands of al-Qaeda. Secondly, we won't have to put American drones,(oop, sorry Rant Paul) I mean American troops in harms way. Third, we won't have to be accused of being in Muslim lands and fourth, the Muslim world would be taking care of their own responsibility and obligation in their own region.

    May 27, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  3. dirtymoosetaint

    our governemnt we never "learn" anything. They have to stick our noses in anything that could be money. I cant wait for the day that our governemnt falls, so we can once again celebrate our independence and freedom.

    May 27, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  4. RDH

    It is now obvious that we have eatablished our puppet regime with in the ranks of the syrian revolution and are moving to assist their rise to power. Syrians I hope you wake up before you lose everything you have bled for. Never trust government and if you do establish one, keep them as weak as possible and make sure they always fear you the people.

    May 27, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  5. AbrahamLincoln

    So how much did this trip cost me?

    May 27, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  6. Kevin H

    I ask the same tired old question: Republicans where were you when Syria's leadership was doing far uglier things than those of which they now stand accused – before, during and after the Gulf War. Complacency and addressing issues late in the game is becoming a US standard. We couldn't afford "not to" said both Dems and Republicans during the second Gulf War. Where were they when Saddam Hussein was murdering people prior to 9/11? I'll tell you where – huddled in strategy sessions trying to prevent the public from finding out that the bulk of them worked for the military industrial complex and wanted an expensive war at any cost. Wars solve short term economic problems and create long-term nightmares – we know this – it's part and parcel of our American character.

    May 27, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  7. Paul

    He could not get us to go into Syria or Iran, so now he goes there to stir things up. Thank goodness he never became president....we would be fighting World War 3 against our allies!

    May 27, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  8. US_Girl

    Wasn't he with Lieberman on this trip?

    May 27, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  9. dirtymoosetaint

    lol our governemnt will never "learn" anything. They just want more money for them and their elite friends. I cant wait for the day that out government fals so we can once again celebrate our independence and freedom instead of this tyranny and borderline police state we are in..

    May 27, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  10. Doc1

    Please keep him. Please!

    May 27, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  11. Lance Sephyr

    If McCain cares so much about Syria, he should go fight there as he ignores American children living off of food stamps, not having proper shelters,inadequate funding for schools, as well as does nothing about how highways, and other infrastructure fall apart.

    May 27, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  12. g

    did he get his marching orders from THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX , the guys who have no problem selling arms to americas enemies or future enemies

    May 27, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  13. Grinning Libber

    That senile old goat and war monger should have retired after POTUS OBAMA thumped in in 2008.

    May 27, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  14. Jim

    What the heck is he doing!? He does not speak for the U.S.. The President who kicked his old butt does. You'd think of all people he'd be against escalating this conflict. Let them fight it out. Assad will go bye-bye eventually.

    May 27, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  15. gsg

    Some people never learn. He doesn't represent my wishes.

    May 27, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  16. RSVP

    I can't imagine the president authorizing McCain's visit with Syrian rebels. It's highly unlikely that Chuck Hagel, THE Defense Secretary, authorized and orchestrated it either. If so, then the State Dept. would be confirming this, not McCain's communications director. What a loose cannon. Trying to go out like John Wayne!

    May 27, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  17. C'mon

    Did he vette them for more than 15 minutes?

    May 27, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  18. Shontal

    The Al Queda rebels hate Christians and the dictators protected Christians. Whose side are we on.

    May 27, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  19. Mo

    Hanoi Jane vs Damascus John? What the difference?

    May 27, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  20. Daniel

    John McCain: A Real American Zero. Where is little Mrs. Palin?

    May 27, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  21. ALLuh

    Ole whistlin' tooth McCain has completely destroyed his legacy, after Sara Palin he should have called it quits, now a total embarrassment and war mongering old fool.

    May 27, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  22. karinCP

    Hey – Good that Obama sent one of the Congress to find out first-hand what is going on there – Go Obama ! ! Next let us send Michelle to start some gardens so the people have food of their own – Grow Own –

    May 27, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  23. ShiningEmber

    Meddling McCain...

    May 27, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  24. steve c

    So McCain is buddies with terrorist? Wow. Sickening.

    May 27, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  25. ya rights

    Who let that war monger in the house?

    May 27, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
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