US Senator McCain in Syria but ‘just by a few miles’

US Senator McCain in Syria but ‘just by a few miles’

US Senator McCain in Syria but ‘just by a few miles’

US Senator John McCain (2nd L) poses for a picture with Syrian rebel leader Gen Salim Idris (2nd R) and other members of the Syrian opposition in the border town of Bab al-Salam, near Turkey. McCain visited US troops in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, before crossing into Syrian territory. AFP photo

U.S. Senator John McCain slipped into Syrian territory from southeastern Turkey on May 27 but didn’t go far from the border, a Syrian opposition official told the Hürriyet Daily News on May 28.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the senator crossed the border through a border gate in the southeastern province of Kilis. Gen. Salim Idris, chief of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, met McCain on the Syrian side and accompanied him but not very far from the border, he added. The meeting took a few hours, according to the official, and after the meeting McCain returned to Turkey through the same border gate.

An official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the Daily News that they were aware of McCain’s visit.

The official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, said McCain had come to Turkey in coordination with the U.S. embassy and that he didn’t have to obtain permission from the ministry. The official said the purpose of the senator’s visit was to see the Patriot missile batteries deployed on the Syrian border. The senator visited U.S. troops in the southeastern province of Gaziantep.

A State Department official said the department was aware of McCain crossing into Syrian territory, but referred further questions to McCain’s office. McCain spokeswoman Rachel Dean confirmed the trip, but declined further comment.

‘We need American help’

After crossing the border McCain met with leaders of the Free Syrian Army from across the country, who asked him for increased U.S. support, including heavy weapons, a no-fly zone and airstrikes on Syrian government and Hezbollah forces.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” the Daily Beast, which first reported the senator’s visit, quoted Idris as saying. “We need American help to have a change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.” McCain is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria since Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, crossed the border into northern Syria to meet with opposition leaders earlier this month.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, has been a fierce critic of Obama administration policy in Syria. While stopping short of backing U.S. ground troops in the country, he supports aggressive military steps against the al-Assad regime. McCain had made a similar visit to Libya early
in that conflict.