May 29th, 2013
03:17 PM ET
9 years ago

McCain says State provided security in Syria trip

Updated at 10:43 p.m. ET Wednesday 5/29

(CNN) – The U.S. State Department helped Sen. John McCain with his trip into war-torn Syria this week, the senator from Arizona said Wednesday.

McCain acknowledged on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that the State Department and rebel groups were both involved in providing his security.

"I want to express my appreciation to the State Department," McCain said in the exclusive CNN interview. "The reality is if they had said no, I wouldn't have made this visit. They were very helpful and cooperative, and I'm grateful."

On Monday, McCain slipped across the Syria-Turkey border and became the first U.S. senator to visit the country since civil war broke out more than two years ago. He traveled roughly 1 kilometer inside Syria to meet with rebel leaders from different Syrian cities. He remained in the country for several hours.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed earlier Wednesday in the daily briefing that Secretary of State John Kerry knew beforehand McCain intended to travel to Syria. While she said Kerry and McCain spoke about his trip Tuesday evening, she directed reporters to the senator's office for any further questions.

The White House was also aware of McCain's travel plans, Press Secretary Jay Carney said this week.

McCain declined to give too many details on the logistics of his trip but said the D.C.-based Syrian Emergency Task Force help set up the meetings with rebel groups. He credited Syrians for being "pretty brave in making this happen."

He did not detail how exactly the State Department helped him with security but said Salim Idris, a Syrian rebel general, accompanied him in and out of Syria from Turkey.

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.

Meeting members of Syria's opposition face-to-face in the country they're fighting to control deepened his conviction that the United States must become further engaged in the bloody conflict.

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee said meeting 18 commanders with the Free Syrian Army provided an in-the-flesh reminder of the civil war's human cost.

"When you look at the faces of these people and hear their stories, so many of them have lost family members, so many of them have lost friends," McCain said in the interview, speaking from Dubai. "This is a pretty bloody, bloody business that they've been in."

He said Wednesday his positions have hardened now that he's seen the fighters working to oust Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

"Of course it's as you might imagine intensified because these are human beings that are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for, for well over 200 years," he said.

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.

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 Assad. They specifically said they need ammunition, as well as antitank and antiaircraft weapons, McCain said.

"They do not understand why we won't help them," he said.

They also called for the United States to "take greater leadership in supporting the rebels in a more serious manner," according to Mouaz Moustafa, who helps run the group that organized McCain's trip.

"Their main message was that we are desperate for ammunition. We are desperate for weapons," Moustafa said.

U.S. officials from both parties have expressed concerns about American arms ending up in the hands of terrorists in Syria should the United States decide to provide rebels with lethal aid. Members of al-Nusra Front, which is designated by the United States as a pro-al Qaeda terrorist group, have joined the rebels in their fight against Assad.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, for example, has been outspoken about his opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria. In a new opinion piece for, Paul writes that arming the rebels would be "complicated and dangerous" and "could actually help the extremists."

He also took subtle jabs at McCain, pointing to the senator's switch in support from former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the rebels seeking his demise.

OPINION: Helping Syrian rebels a dangerous risk, Rand Paul says

McCain told CNN that members of the extremist group represent only 7% of the 100,000 total rebel forces. "We can help the right people," he said. "Is there some risk involved? Absolutely. But is the status quo acceptable?"

Filed under: AC360 • John McCain • Syria
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. Donna

    Obama handed Egypt over the the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Libya is in chaos with AQ groups running rampant. And now he is doing his best to hand Syria over to another radical Muslim faction. And then when they all attack Israel, we are committed to help defending them.

    Obama has set the entire Middle East on fire and it will all blow up in his face. This is one reason I am glad he won last November. It will be good to have to see him deal with the mess he has created. This is what happens when you lead from behind.

    May 29, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  2. Jo Black

    Syria visit steals Mccains resolve.

    May 29, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  3. anotherGDlefty

    Well where is the GOPTeaparty outrage over his needless travels on taxpayer money?

    Oh Johnnie, why don't you worry about what's happening in Arizona or America first?
    Signed, an Arizonan that wonders why you are in Syria to begin with.

    May 29, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  4. pauljmc

    Hey Tony D why should we support anyone. First we supported a guy in Iraq with his war against Iran, where did that get us. Oh yeah we had to invade because of mysterious WMD's. Then we helped a guy in Afghanistan with his fight against the former Soviet Union. Well we all know how that went. Every time we get involved in the Middle East the U.S. always ends up with the casualties and the bill. Let them fight for themselves for a change.

    May 29, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  5. Just Thinknig

    The US does not need to get involved in another war. Yes, it is very sad when you look into the faces of war, it is evil. Russia is sending missiles to Syria while the UK and USA are backing the rebels. Anybody see a conflict of interest here? A dangerous situation is brewing between major countries and it could be a matter of time when patience has run out. Russia, USA and the UK must work together with the "non-militants" groups in Syria for a resolution, and do it quickly !! As for McCain, he should stay home. He's to emotional !!

    May 29, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  6. SG

    He has not learn't from experiences from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The more desperate 7% will command most of the weapons and resources provided to rebels.

    I personally believe, throwing out Assad is not going to end the misery of the people of Syria. These rebels, if seated, will establish strict Islamic rule in the region and will potentially become breeding grounds for terrorism. They will start killing the minorities and no one will be safe out there.

    No one wants to get into another war.. Besides what are we going to benefit from going there anyway.

    May 29, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  7. Richard

    Senator McCain is correct in his analysis. He speaks the truth, and there should be a "no fly" zone over all of Syria. However, there should be no American soldiers on the ground. We need to supply weapons to moderate Syrian rebels who are desirous of establishing a true democracy. The arms should not fall into the hands of Al Quaeda and Islamic extremists.

    May 29, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. Rightster

    Why doesn't he go to Israelli-occupied territory and have sympathy for the Palestinians fighting for their freedoms?

    May 29, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  9. sly

    Why is this foolish old coot still trying to undermine American foreign policy?

    War criminal McCain: napalmed enough women and children in Vietnam that they justifiably locked him up.

    This man makes his choice for running mate, Sarah Palin, look like a genius.

    May 29, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  10. bigc

    Does anyone read the news about how the FSA has a Bragade called Osama Bin Ladin Bragade !!! Also the al-Nusra rebels now have merged with al-Quaeda of Iraq & these rebels are mostly Non-Syrian but in reality are al- Quaeda Terrorist.
    This whole war in Syria is about oil & gas pipelines that opec wants to put through Syria & Syria wants a bigger piece of the pie than opec wants to pay!!! So the oil cartel & western countiries are trying to overthrow the Syrian Gov't !!!

    May 29, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  11. Anonymous


    McCain supports further deficit spending to fund war – but not investment in OUR country.

    Makes you wonder whose side he's on ...

    For the past umpteen years, McCain has been nothing but a media wh0re. He is and will always be on whatever side gets him the most camera coverage. His "steel" reserve keeps him mugging along, year after year.

    May 29, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  12. curious2

    Protect America!

    May 29, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  13. PJ

    "When you look at the faces of these people and hear their stories, so many of them have lost family members.........
    This has been a pretty bloody, bloody business they have been in"
    Is he talking about our American soldiers and their stories and their families?
    Stay home McCain and do for your fellow veterans and active duty people, as you would have them do for you!

    May 29, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  14. Oliver Cromwell

    11 year olds beheading former police with machettes, no trial mass execution of captured soldiers and rape used as a standard scare tactic. Sorry but America is wrong on this one. I really, really hope that Russia's S-300 sales will deter us from getting involved with either side in this mess. Who do we side with? The gang of thugs I'm describing called "Rebels" or the brutal dictator? How about choice "C. None of the above".

    May 29, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  15. Gloria

    Just imagine how many wars our country would be in by now if McCain was elected POTUS!!!!! I surely didn't vote for him–thank God–mainly for that very reason. The last thing our country needs right now is to become directly involved-other than providing some humanitarian aid– in a civil war in a part of the world where ethnic/tribal conflicts have been going on for centuries.

    May 29, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  16. EE

    who's bloody money are you taking to say this McCain?

    May 29, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  17. Boothill Dem

    Put Mr. McCain on the street in Syria, give him a gun, take away his passport and tell him to find his own way out. He loves war so much, let him enjoy it.

    May 29, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  18. sparky

    We helped the Mujahadeen and look how that turned out.......go ahead idiots. Vote Repuke, Haliburton needs another 100 billion when we drop our collective balls in a salad shooter going into Syria

    May 29, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  19. CosmicC

    Sounds like a great idea...this worked out so well for us in the past – Afghanistan, Iraq, Contras, etc.

    Past idiocies like this have been proxy wars against the Soviet Union. Does McCain miss the good ole days so much he wants to pick a fight with Russia?

    May 29, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  20. Rick in OP

    Syria has the potential to be a bigger quagmire than Iraq. The best we can hope for is to try to find an element in Syria that we can support that will counter the influx of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters. Iran was instrumental in the deaths of many American soldiers in Iraq. I would like the to return the favor by creating a meat grinder in Syria that chews up Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds forces.

    No matter what happens, keep the U.S. military out of Iraq. If McCain is hell-bent on getting into Syria, let him send his kids. My son was in the last war in Iraq and we do not care to repeat the experience.

    May 29, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  21. 2012liberal

    McCain u dont not represent the obama administration policy. You didnt win. We provide weapons 2 the rebels= turned and used on us when they become our foes. Iran, iraq, afganistan, libya etc. Go away. 2 bad u came back. Y dont u just stay n syria?

    May 29, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  22. 2012liberal

    McCain u dont represent the obama administration policies. You didnt win. We provide weapons 2 the rebels= turned and used on us when they become our foes. Iran, iraq, afganistan, libya etc. Go away. 2 bad u came back. Y dont u just stay n syria?

    May 29, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  23. brads2sense

    Lets learn from history this time; Afghanistan 1980, Vietnam, Iran 1979, Nicaragua, Somalia, etc. Our "friends" will turn into enemies!!

    May 29, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  24. Rick in OP

    Correction: No matter what happens, keep the U.S. military out of SYRIA.

    May 29, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  25. westsacvoice

    I am going with the other folks commenting that we need to focus on our issues at home. We have enough issues, we need to get our house in order first before we trying helping others. Get people work, bring back troops from Afghanistan and then you can consider if you want to go in anywhere else.

    May 29, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
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