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. sookie

    tell the old goat mcain to get home he forgot anny oakley palin. those repucks are getting nuttier every day.

    May 27, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  2. Jkells

    Old McNutty had a farm E, I, E, i, ooooooo; would you just go home and stay there!

    May 27, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  3. James Moore

    Hi. My name is John McCain. I can't seem to motivate this president to get America involved in another war; perhaps I can do that.

    May 27, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  4. navaJohn

    Stay there.

    May 27, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  5. allenwoll

    McCain : STAY HOME ! ! ! ! ! !

    May 27, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  6. ratickle

    It would really be great if McCain stayed in Syria.

    May 27, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  7. bankrupt1

    we've had relationships with syria from waaay back. i wonder why they said they didn't know who the rebels were? or is that just media blackout from israelis?

    May 27, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  8. Jordan Boudway

    It's stupid for people to be complaining about McCain going to Syria. I don't like the guy's politics at all, but someone had to go over. This is a real issue, good for him for stepping up.

    May 27, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  9. Dr. G

    Someone needs to remind Brother John that foreign policy is the dominion of the Executive Branch of the government. He is in the Legislative Branch- totally dysfunctional branch of our government. Also, John, you lost the election. Get on home and straighten out things in this country, especially the Party of the Grand Republic... thanks.

    May 27, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  10. AgnosticInCO

    "you see these children..." "they're going to take revenge" What in the Flying FKKK!!!! Threatening us is really so effective... I am so tired of being considered the world police. They hail us and then they want to hang us. Are those children going to "take revenge" on Brazil or Morocco, or Zimbabwe or Denmark for not going to the fight. Such complete BS. We didn't have money for the last two wars – one of which we're still fighting -, we can't afford another. We could barely handle Libya – and Syria's defenses are VASTLY more sophisticated and there's a dense population (meaning the potential for mass civilian casualties during airstrikes). Syrian rebels, you know not what you ask. Not to mention arming rebels has bit us in the butt before in Afghanistan, in Nicaragua, in Libya where the people are now living amidst innumerable armed militia groups who have next to no allegiances and the rest of the arms we gave them are being used by islamists in Mali – used against French troops, one of our close allies! I support the President's caution. Where was McCain with his interventionism during the atrocities in Darfur or Uganda, et cetera. I'm sorry for the victims caught up in this, I really am. We'll help with aid and State maneuvers to oust Assad, but even we have limiting constraints. What the rebels should be asking is, WHERE IS THE ARAB LEAGUE?

    May 27, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  11. rosethornne

    McWarmonger needs to stay home.

    May 27, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  12. jillib

    McCain is overstepping his bounds here. His constant push for war is offensive as is his trip to Syria.

    May 27, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  13. Jkells

    Logan act!!! Look it up. He has gone to Turkey, and has met with the heart eaters. LOGAN ACT. Mr. President, YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING THIS IS OUT OF ORDER!!!

    May 27, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  14. Gimmemore

    So when did Obama authorize McCain to set foreign policy? Is McCain trying to be president by proxy?? Time for the Executive branch and the Judicial branch to knock some sense into the Legislative branch.

    May 27, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  15. Ralph_in_FL

    If he had gotten himself killed, the Republicans would have blamed Obama.

    May 27, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  16. freedom fan

    Nice move, but don't expect any money .

    May 27, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  17. 2011 Eyes

    CNN, this is my comment to you. After reading an article, why are most of the comments controlled by disqus (disgust)? It appears that some of us are not allowed to see any of the comments or post a comment with disqus. Why is this being allowed?

    May 27, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  18. maggie

    dear women everywhere, war will not end until women "close the shop"; stop producing the people who produce war. The quickest way to world peace

    May 27, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  19. stephen48739

    War monger. The problems in Syria will never be solved using military force. As much as Senator McCain would like to think, the U.S. is not the policeman of the world. If he wants us the be the policeman, we should handle the Syrian problems like the police in our large American cities...wait for the gunfire to stop...then go in and pick up the bodies. Stay out of Syria! Stay out of Iran! No more wars! Enough already!

    May 27, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  20. Mohammad

    I don't recommend he goes there. It's a very risky trip to make. I fear for his safety.

    May 27, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  21. Geoff Dubrowsky

    What happened did Denis Rodman take a day off?

    May 27, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  22. maggie

    children are always held hostage to every grown up every where in the world who does not espouse an end to violence everywhere.

    May 27, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  23. maggie

    maybe mccain can come home and take care of the 26,000 rapes, in his own army

    May 27, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  24. maggie

    war is made on poor people, women and children perpetuated by the rich

    May 27, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  25. maggie

    and infuential

    May 27, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
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