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. lottie

    just like this clown to go stir things up before an official visit from Kerry. The old fart needs to stop meddling and quit screwing with our foreign policy. Oh maybe he would rather just give the Hezbollah guns directly. The republican party is a menace to this country.

    May 27, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  2. jad1969

    like it or not, we are the worlds police chief. most countries rely to do what they dont want to & the terriorist hate us for it.

    May 27, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  3. Skarphace

    We as Americans need to remember the last time we decided to "help" the rebels in Afghanistan against their oppressors. Remember how that turned out? We may not be to blame for Al Qaeda, but we are partially responsible, at the very least.

    May 27, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  4. luvUamerica

    In Malaysia, they just arrested two Al-Qaeda operatives who have joined the rebels in Syria. I didn't realize we have begun supporting Al Qaeda. I used to have respect for McCain's intelligence and commitment, but this is really dumb move.

    Syria is a mess. You have Al Assad's Shiite's, Hezbollah and Iranian operatives on one side. And on the other side, you have the Sunni's, and Al Qaeda operatives from all around the world.

    Leave them alone ti duke it out McCain, my man.

    May 27, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  5. Jc

    There is a liberal mindset that all war is bad. At some point you have to do the right thing, and our pacifist mentality of late has cost tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Syria. We had a perfect opportunity 18 months ago to help the FSA bring down Assad, but the liberal public was so war weary that we decided to sit on our thumbs. Since the liberal community got their president elected, their ideology won out. Unfortunately it was a prelude to disaster. We became pacifists, which led to Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, and Hezzbolah to fight for the top spot in a power vacuum. Military intervention is a very touchy subject, and a lot of people argue over the validity of the wars we have waged over the past 20 years, but what's more valid than saving the lives of people that are innocent victims? How many women and children need to die by missiles and snipers before liberals start to care? Being pacifists has allowed the Syrian civil war to destabilize the region. Once Assad falls the FSA will have to fight the extremists for power, and the Saudis will make sure that's an impossible fight. Doing nothing will allow Al Qaeda to regain control of an entire country, which will be disasterous for the international community. Syria will be a safe haven for extremists, and give the Sunni extremists a base to launch their campaign to regain control of Iraq. This is exactly what several folks in the GOP have been saying would happen for almost 2 years, yet liberals just called them war mongers. Nobody seems to have any foresight. What liberals don't understand is that the longer we wait the more costly its going to be to intervene, and we will ultimately have to intervene. We cannot allow Al Qaeda and the ANF to run one of the largest countries in the Middle East. That would undo everything we spent the past decade trying to build in the region. As unpopular as the two wars were, they were necessary. Allowing extremists to regain control will bring death and destruction to SW Asia, Europe, and the US. Basically a meltdown of 3 of the 4 main global financial sources. Sometimes wars are for financial interests, sometimes wars are for human interests, and sometimes wars are for global interests. Syria might be the hub of WWIII, and the longer we wait the more likely that will be.

    May 27, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  6. dirtybird

    So, what happens when one of these politicians goes on an adventure to meet with rebels in a war torn country and he ends up getting captured by the government? What would the Syrian government do with a captured McCain? Syria would be perfectly within its legal rights to capture him, try him as a foreign agent/spy, and then send him to the gallows. That's what I would try to do if I were Assad.

    May 27, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  7. marty

    can he please just stay over there

    May 27, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  8. gypsytoo

    who is paying for this trip? i am so tired of we don't have money – yet our congressmen jet here and there – for what purpose and who pays for it? take care of the folks at home first.

    May 27, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  9. TheTraveler

    We have NO BUSINESS in Syria. It's their CIVIL WAR. If it spill over into neighboring countries it's THEIR responsibility to see that it's contained and dealt with. McCain isn't a humanitarian, he isn't our Sec of State , and he isn't in charge of US Foreign policy. Did he he enter Syria unlawfully? It appears so. As well, his stupidity my have compromised talks the SoS was setting up. Rein this fool in before his hawkish agenda embroils the US in yet another foreign war.

    May 27, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  10. snowdogg

    Danram... be careful what you wish for.

    May 27, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  11. Shellback

    Why are we getting involve again? All for Israel of course! I'm sick of it!

    May 27, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  12. Michael

    Does anyone ever question these things and how news potrays this whole situation. For all we now Assad is a leader trying to keep control of his country and we being the USA support rebels who are trying to overthrow the government. WHo's to say the serian people would rather Assad be the leader? And since the US is now supporting th rebels now they are the good guys and Assad is bad? No matter what side we choose there will always be some other leader who will be better or worse. But that is absolutely none of our business. We are just humans, nothing special, people will die and be cuaght in the crosshairs that is life and how it will always be. We americans have time on our hands to come up with whats right and wrong and we feel we are in some posiotion of authority when we are just another thriving nation living in another time period this earth has to offer. I think we should forget about the rest of the worlds issues when it comes to war, We usually do so much more harm than good. We should secure our infrastructure and focus on defence and then the rest would not matter.

    May 27, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  13. Viet Vet

    Hey John, want to thank you for using Memorial Day to attempt to make more casualties out of our Brothers and Sisters when your team hasn't covered the Veterans already in a bind.
    WAR = Waste All Resources

    May 27, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  14. DarthVaderMentor

    He's also asking about Benghazi and if our foreign policy makes sense, you can bet that.

    May 27, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  15. Ilya

    Good to see McCain siding with terrorists and beheaders this guy just want to stars wars all around the globe !!! this guy is sick please isolate him!!!

    May 27, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  16. neill

    Please dontdrag us into another middle eastern war. Have our politicians learned nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan?
    We should give humanitarian aid only to the civilian population. Don't give military aid the rebels. They hate us and will only turn their guns on us when they have finished in Syria

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

    This is disgusting to me. Simply disgusting. Sure, lets throw our arms around the opposition - Muslim Brotherhood - and "secretly" assist them. When will America learn? This type of things comes back to haunt us and causes the deaths of countless Americans. Let the Syrians take each other out if that is what they choose.

    May 27, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  18. Erik

    He should be prosecuted for violating the Logan act.

    May 27, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  19. steve

    From the genius that brought us Sarah Palin for Vice President.....

    May 27, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  20. Luke

    Im so glad Senator McCain never made it to President. we should learn from our past and do not get into others Wars. this is a reason why are we are hated so much among the world we going to other countries impose rule

    May 27, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  21. Louis Grue Jr.

    I worry about Sen. McCain , I think he has lost his mind. He obviously doesn't understand that the rebels are infiltrated by Muslim terrorists who hate us, you know, The big satan.

    May 27, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  22. dwicjan

    McCain, No military aid to Syrian rebels. They will just use the weapons against us given the chance. I respect your service to our country in the Vietnam war. Some of your ideas just don't sound right or good to me.

    May 27, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  23. Skarphace

    We need to ask McCain one question: "Who should the US support, Senator, Al Qaeda (Sunni) or Hezbolah (Shiite)?"

    Because that is what this is all about, a war between factions of Islam. The answer? Neither. However, doing nothing would not help line the pockets of war profiteers.

    May 27, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  24. PJ

    McCain – taking more fool's missions, accomplishing nothing and looking desperate. He needs to shut up and
    sit down.

    May 27, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  25. Iggy

    You're too old, McCain. Stay home!

    May 27, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
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