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. Robert

    Mr. McCain, I think this so wonderful of you. Now you can say that you are better than every one else on capital hill and an expert on Syria – NOT. There are plenty of other diplomatic channels that have been used to speak to the Syrian rebel leaders. Your visit to Syria is just showmanship. Either get down to the work of the American people or get out. Your trip did nothing. Dork.

    May 27, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  2. Lardeau

    THAT GUY should butt out. He has had his day. He only wants more time in the sun.

    May 27, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  3. Name .Rocateno

    Are these the same rebels WHO killed a soldier and ate his heart? I believe I read that on CNN. God bless USA.

    May 27, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  4. cacique

    Leave them alone, it looks like their war will be coming to an end quite soon. No need to play favorites, sometimes it is best to let water follow the path of less resistance. It also looks like the rebels are just as deranged as the regime they are fighting against, but the regime can actually exert control over the populations if left to their own resources.

    May 27, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. anchorite

    Great. Sen. McCain (R-AZ) meets with Satanic cannibal rebels in Syria. Is there any group of lowlifes we WON'T give weapons and intel to?

    May 27, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  6. ed

    "do you see these children here? They're going to take revenge on those people who refused to help them" – nothing to add here...

    May 27, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  7. Lyn

    The hypocrisy and short-sightedness of Republicans never ends. The deficit/debt is all I've heard about for years (i.e., shifting Bush's legacy into Obama's hands), and this guy wants to intervene in a country whose citizens are naturally evolving? The point is, John, you can't - simply can't - drive people to develop. It's a process, and a long one at that. We went through our crisis 150+ years ago, and Syria is going through theirs now. LET THEM BE. LEARN from Iraq. The entire region, including Iran, will go through the same thing over the next few decades.

    May 27, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  8. Andrew

    This is rediculous...I hate war, its horrible. But airstrikesx to end this is NOT a bad idea. Rebels alqaida affiliates? As opposed to Assad, the Iranian, Hezbollah affiliate who has used chemical weapons against his own people and murdered 50,000 civilians in the process and according to human rights watch, has established an archipelago of torture? This isnt Iraq, nobody is asking to send 250,000 ground troops to occupy a country that doesnt want our help. No, we cant be the police of the world, but to allow 100,000 people to be murdered (and no most rebels are NOT alqzaida affiliates) I feel the argument "the rebels are just as bad", not only has no basis in reality, by reports from human rights watch, amnesty international etc... but is just an excuse for people to support non-0intervention and make themselves feel as if they dont care about systematic crimes against humanity...I mean come on. "the country could divvolve into violence if Assad was removed" opposed to now? "The rebels are terrorist" opposed to Assad who has committed much more systematic crimes, and is steadily degrading stability in the Middle East? War monger? Dude, your afraid of accidentally killing 1,000 people, so allow 50,000 to be deliberately murdered. Ive always viewed myself as liberal, but the complacency, and excuses the liberal community seems to propagate to resist ANY no-fly zones, or international war crimes tribunals at the least is disgusting. Its all politics even when mass murder and crimes against humanity are systematic.

    May 27, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  9. cesar alegria

    McCain is some one who call the terrorist "rebel" and then what is next? he forgot about his round red nose!!

    May 27, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  10. Byron

    How about we allow the middle east handle this themselves.

    May 27, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  11. Grant

    John McCain?.. is he still alive?

    May 27, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  12. Jopa

    No longer just a RINO, now a complete Benedict Arnold!!

    May 27, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  13. Truth2012

    Wonder how much it cost to fly a do nothing Senator to interfere with foreign policy.... you lost, you're not Potus... quit wasting US $$$$ grandstanding....

    May 27, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  14. Reality Check

    Why are the comments so virulent when very little has actually been reported here. If the US were to support the rebels, one would hope there was some facetime beforehand. Sorry folks, but the world is not some simple game were you can just decide to sit out. You play the hand you are dealt.

    May 27, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  15. erin

    Thank God for courageous leaders like McCain. Human rights abuses in Syria are sickening, with innocent civilians being killed by the thousands. Latest death toll 70K. What good is our military might if we don't use it to protect humanity when we can? The haters who are making this about McCain and warmongering are ill-informed. The war in Syria already started 2 years ago, 70,000 lives ago. McCain is a brave guy who spent years as a POW in Vietnam. He knows a thing or two about war and injustice. He doesn't need any agenda to stand up for folks who are suffering.

    May 27, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  16. WatchDawg

    CAn we trade McCain for Assad?

    May 27, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  17. carol

    John mcCain would do anything he felt like doing examples ignoring orders and getting shot down over vietnam, the keating five, selling out last elect on immigration to private prison industry. This is a job for Commander and Chief, and Senate you lost.

    May 27, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  18. Hypatia

    Still trying to get us into 'McCain's War'?

    May 27, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  19. Peace

    Can John the fighter extend his trip straight to Benghazi? He can ask Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayote to join him there.

    May 27, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  20. ed

    I hope he had "cordial" dinner with famous rebel leader

    May 27, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  21. ei8htx

    I watched a youtube video of these rebels executing a row of men with pistol shots to the back of the head with Al Qaeda flags in the background.

    I don't know who to root for, the dictator or the terrorists. What I do know is we should gtfo.

    May 27, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  22. John

    We need to stay out of the middle east it is a no win situation for everyone. Give them the freedom to determine their own future themselves.

    May 27, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  23. Skarphace

    Great. Just who we want representing us, a neocon. He represents the war profiteers, not most Americans.

    "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."

    Really? That would only be true if their elders taught them to think that way. It is their civil war, not ours. It is not our responsibility to help one group or another. The same argument could be made on the other side: "If America helps the rebels, then the children of the loyal Syrians will take revenge on those who helped the rebels." Either way, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. Therefore, we need to do what is best for America, not one group of islamists over another.

    This is a war between factions of Islam, the Sunni and the Shiite. We have no responsibility to help either side.

    May 27, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  24. blutopie

    Did McCain get to have lunch with the cannibals?

    May 27, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  25. Jim

    McCain will carp about how the U.S. should support these rebels right up until the time Obama does it, and will then carp about how he knew the U.S. should have never gotten involved, and what a mistake Obama made (by listening to McCain).

    May 27, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
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