Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made an unannounced visit to Syria on Monday, speaking to rebels there about their struggle against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Word of McCain’s stop was first reported by The Daily Beast, but the senator did not comment on his trip. Rebel sources told the news website they were thankful for McCain’s decision to visit Syria, calling it “very important and very useful.”
“What we want from the U.S. government is to take the decision to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” Syrian Free Army Gen. Salem Idris told reporter John Rogin. “Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.”
The report explains that McCain entered Syria through Turkey with the help of an American nonprofit called the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which works to support the rebels.
His visit comes as the Arizona senator and former challenger to President Barack Obama looks to strike a contrast with his old rival, appearing much more hawkish than the administration on wanting to support Syria’s rebels with arms and military intelligence. He’s also urged the use of U.S. aircraft and missiles to knock out the Syrian government’s defenses and prevent them from taking anymore arms shipments from Russia and Iran, along with encouraging an “international force” to move in and secure the regime’s weapons of mass destruction once the war comes to an end.
President Obama, meanwhile, has warned the Syrians that using banned chemical weapons would be a red line that, if crossed, would prompt the U.S. into direct action. While preliminary reports do suggest that chemical weapons have been used in the country, the Obama administration has instead urged the two sides to join peace talks, in which the regime appears willing to engage.
McCain, however, warned that peace talks were a waste of time and an opportunity for the Assad regime to reorder its forces for a broader offensive against increasingly scattered rebel forces. “The reality is that Putin will only abandon Assad when he thinks that Assad is losing,” he told The Daily Beast last week. “Right now, at worst it’s a stalemate. In the view of some, he is succeeding.”