(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.
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
Gosh, Mr. McCain, wouldn't that idea require us spending money on foreign nationals? Seems like this means you will spend even more time doing anything but what the people of Arizona elected you for than you have already.
This is all posture and another attempt by the GOP to embarrass the president. The 3 supposed scandals are fading away so the GOP needs something else. With so many issues facing American today, why isn't McCain doing the job he was elected for. He wants to show that he can do the President's job and John Kerry's job. He has no power to end the war in Syria but he wants to act like he does. I'm not sure how he thinks we can get involved in another war, we lost enough men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
McCain should retire now. He is clearly out of touch, and he hasn't learned anything from our previous foreign policy blunders. While tragic, this is not our responsibility. After these rebels win, they will likely install some Islamist government.
Did we not learn with the Taliban???? Gift Weapons still killing our guys in Afghanistan... Bridges falling down here but not a republican wants to spend money HERE....
mccain should mind his own business
In times like these, one wishes someone with the bold leadership of John McCain was President. And I speak as someone who voted for Obama twice. Obama's inaction in Syria and Iran in 2009 are the biggest foreign policy blemishes and disasters of his Presidency.
We supported rebels in Egypt and our Embassy was stormed and our flag was replaced with Al-Qaeda flag.
We supported rebels in Libya and our Embassy was attacked and our Ambassador and others in the Embassy were killed.
SO tell me John McCain why should we support rebels in Syria so our Embassy can be a target again.
If you can't see the pattern I think its time to retire.
Apparently, Sen. McCain learned absolutely nothing from Nancy Pelosi going to Syria and yakkng with Assad despite Bush's official policy of suspending diplomatic relations with the mass murdering tyrant.
McCain in Syra=Seeking attention for GOP pres nomination for next election.
No more US wars! I'm sick of all this war.
We have an elected governmenment and McCain does not represent my views.
He's over there on behalf of his constituents, the weapons manufacturers, and the Jews. WE have NO DOG IN THE FIGHT, and meddling in yet one more country's internal affairs will have the usual negative returns.
McCain is an old man who is close to being crazy. We want no American involvement in internal Muslim Affairs. Its the Saudis, Turkey, Iran and others who should take the lead in peacemaking efforts if they have any preference for peace. Lets just keep out.. no more American blood or Money for sorting others affairs .. even Israeli issues. It better learn to deal with its neighbors without having US pay the price.
He will come back demanding we take action in Syria again just like in Libya and then if we do take action Republicans will want Obama's head on a platter for doing exactly what they demanded... again.
so the Syrian school teacher says to McCain if you dont help these children they will grow up to punish the US?? Shame Shame Johnny McCain!
Fully agree with posters above that getting involved in Syria or Iran serves no purpose for the US. But what posters above seem to ignore is that US involvement in the Mid-East is not because of our national interest, it's because of Israel's national interest. An anyone who thinks Israel does not wield considerable power in Washington has been mimicking the proverbial ostrich.
McCain was lucky to get out of Syria alive. Not because of Assad, but because of his poor choice of friends.
McCain needs to retire. Stop the war hawking. If McCain feels strongly about sending troops then he needs to use the United Nations. They can set up zones with their peace keepers instead of using just American forces. We don't need boots on the ground and exactly who will pay for this no fly zone that he wants? Weren't they just saying we are broke and need to reduce spending? If you feel like you need to spend money then try spending it on our infrastructure.
John McCain also ran to Tbilisi, Grusia when the Russian crushed the Georgia army invading South Ossetia. Hiis presence in GHrusia didn't help Saakashvili much.
Now old McCain is off to Syria. Ther must be some young boys and girls in rebel held Syria. Nothing else would entice drooling old McCain.
Doesn't this warmongering chickenhawk have enough of our brave soldiers blood on his hands. I would think as a former P.O.W. he would be more skeptical of endangering more war . After all his party continues to argue how bankrupt America is. JS
... there is no fool like an old fool....
Just retire already.
Let me understand the Republican mantra. Us torturing and imprisoning prisoners without any evidence they commited a crime and us sending in troops and drones killing thousands of non-targeted civilians does NOT make them hate us, but not helping those trying to overthrow Assad does make them hate us. Doesn't make much sense does it?!!! But what idea has the Repubs come up with that does make sense? There is no good option in Syria, but keeping out seems to be the lesser evil
do these officials know anything about syria??? hezbollah infiltrating the rebel opposition !!!! the rebels are locked in a bitter fight against hezbollah and iranian troops in syria , what a lie... trying to twist the facts to justify doing nothing by the obama administration.
if you thing not helping the rebels will make you safer you are in denial syria will have big effects to the whole world , but it is always leave the hard work to the next president .
Focus on the people here in the United States, John, its not 1950's and Korea or the 60's and Vietnam, let it go John