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 since its civil war began over two years ago.
SYRIA (CBS/AP) -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of U.S. military action in Syria - and a vocal opponent of President Obama's Syrian policy - sneaked across the Syrian border and met with rebels there, CBS News has learned.
The trip was in the works "for weeks, if not months," Mouaz Mustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force who was with McCain all day, told CBS News' Clarissa Ward. "It's something the senator has wanted to do for quite some time because he's pro-active on the subject of the U.S. being more directly involved in Syria and helping to create the necessary changes on the ground to end the conflict."
While on a trip to Turkey, McCain met with the leader of the Syrian rebels, Gen. Salem Idris, who accompanied the senator across the border at Bab Salameh and facilitated a series of meetings with assembled leaders of the Free Syrian Army.
Mustafa told CBS News' Ward that McCain went to two meetings in Gazantiep, Turkey - near the Syrian border - first and met with a dozen different commanders from all over Syria.
McCain then crossed Bab Salameh and met with a smaller gathering of brigade commanders near the border, Mustafa said. Idris attended all three meetings. McCain, who was inside Syria for roughly an hour, had two personal security guards with him.
McCain and one commander discussed Hezbollah's increasing role in Syrian fighting and also the issue of extremism, when McCain asked commanders how to best combat extremism. The commanders agreed that the best way was for them to be armed under the command of Idris.
According to Mustafa, McCain said that the trip had been very important and that there was no substitute for meeting people and sitting down face to face. He said that more policymakers should make the trip inside and do the same.
McCain's visit was first reported by The Daily Beast.