McCain: Visit to Libya 'one of most inspiring days of my life'

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Friday said his visit with rebels in Benghazi, Libya, was "one of the most exciting and inspiring days of my life."

McCain landed in Libya on Friday for meetings with rebel fighters and opposition leaders who have been trying for two months to drive embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.

“What I have witnessed today in Benghazi is a powerful and hopeful example of what a free Libya could be — a place where the dignity and the desires of all people for freedom and opportunity are respected," McCain said.

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But McCain said more work is needed to defeat Gadhafi's forces, including stepping up offensive airstrikes.

"We desperately need more close air-support and precision strike assets — such as A-10s and [AC-130 gunships]," McCain said.

McCain was reportedly set to meet with members of the National Transition Council, the opposition group based in the eastern half of Libya. He moved around in a heavily armored Mercedes jeep and was greeted by Libyan citizens waving American flags, The Associated Press reported.

McCain applauded President Obama's decision on Thursday to send Predator drones to Libya.
 
He said in a statement that "responsible nations need to provide the military forces of the Transitional National Council with every appropriate means of assistance to enable them to create conditions on the ground that increase the pressure on Qaddafi to leave power."

"I challenge the critics of the international intervention in Libya to come here to Benghazi, to meet with these people and their leaders, and to repeat that we had no interest in preventing Gadhafi from slaughtering these Libyan dissidents, which is exactly what he had pledged to do," the veteran senator said.

McCain urged all nations that have yet to recognize the council as Libya's official government to do so. Also, nations that have frozen Libyan assets should take steps to get monies to opposition leaders, he said.

Prior to the mid-March start of U.S. and coalition bombing of Gadhafi's military and the establishment of a no-fly zone, McCain had been among the most vocal U.S. lawmakers calling for American intervention as the Libyan leader pushed back against rebel fighters.

His arrival in Benghazi came less than one day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Obama had approved the use of Predator drones to strike Gadhafi forces. U.S. fighter aircraft and aerial gunships had been involved in the opening weeks of the campaign but recently took a backseat to NATO warplanes as the alliance took command of the operations.

Some Libyan rebel fighters and National Council members, however, have criticized NATO for failing to provide the needed combat punch to help opposition fighters counter pro-Gadhafi forces.

A source told The Hill on Friday that many of the U.S. flags Libyan citizens were waving were homemade. 

Once word got out of the senator's pending visit got out, other American flags were brought in from Tunisia and Egypt, the source said. The U.S. delegation did not take any copies of Old Glory for distribution, according to the source. 

The source called it a "surprisingly ... very pro-American crowd."

—This story was posted at 9:25 a.m. and updated at 3:42 p.m.