John McCain (shown in photo) has put "boots on the ground" in Syria after all — his own.
The senior senator from Arizona and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee became the highest-ranking U.S. official to enter Syria since the beginning of the two-year-old civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000, the Daily Beast reported. McCain made the unannounced visit Monday, when he crossed the border into Syria from Turkey, accompanied by Gen. Salim Idris, leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. McCain's has been the most persistent voice in the Senate calling for aid to the rebel army — criticizing the Obama administration for not supplying weapons and air support. He has stressed, however, that he is not calling for American "boots on the ground" to assist the forces fighting to overthrow the regime of Syrian Bashar Hafez al-Assad.
President Obama has called on al-Assad to step down, but has limited direct U.S. assistance to the rebels to non-lethal "humanitarian" aid, such as protective armor and communications equipment. The United States has facilitated shipment of deadly weapons to the rebels from third-party vendors, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
McCain's visit came less than a week after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 15-3 to begin shipment of U.S. lethal weapons to "vetted" rebel units they hope will not be dominated by militant, anti-Western Islamists. It is not certain if or when the Syrian Transaction Support Act, sponsored by committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and ranking Republican Robert Corker of Tennessee, will come before the full Senate for a vote.
"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," Gen. Idris told the Daily Beast. "Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria."
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