McCain meets Syrian rebels, presses for military aid to fight ISIS

Courtesy of Syrian Opposition Council

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pressed for increasing aid to moderate rebel groups after meeting Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey Wednesday, warning that delays would “fuel the growing danger” to U.S. security.

McCain said pro-Western Syrian forces were fighting a “two-front war” against both Syrian strongman Bashar Assad and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni militant group that has captured huge swaths of both countries.

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“Further reluctance to support moderate Syrian opposition forces in fighting more effectively against both Assad and ISIS will only fuel the growing danger that the current threats in Syria and Iraq now pose to the United States and our national interests,” warned McCain.

McCain said he met with representatives from the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, as well as the interim government, activists and commanders from the Free Syria Army. 

"These leaders provided firsthand accounts of the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation on the ground inside Syria and how the recent offensive by ISIS in Iraq is shifting dynamics on the battlefield in favor of extremists in both countries," he said. 

The senator called for providing anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and creating a safe zone for those groups in Syria.

The White House last week proposed a $500 million program for the Defense Department to train and equip the Syrian opposition on a larger scale than the CIA is currently doing so.

Both McCain and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) support the initiative, which has to be approved by Congress. 

McCain, though, called for a comprehensive strategy to deal with the threat from ISIS and the Syrian civil war.

"We need a strategy that can force Assad to leave power and defeat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, and that strategy should start with greater support to these Syrian opposition forces, especially vital military training and assistance," he said. 

The opposition's interim government, the Syrian opposition council urged support for the $500 million fund.

"The $500 million program to train and equip vetted moderate opposition fighters requested by President Obama is urgently needed to hold the line against the advances of the Islamic extremist army of ISIS," it said.

The group said ISIS had brought in "heavy weapons and equipment captured from the Iraqi Army back across the border into Syria to boost their firepower."

"In the fight against ISIS, 800 moderate opposition forces have been killed by ISIS extremists and thousands more injured over approximately the last six months,” the group said. "Increased U.S. support for the moderate opposition will benefit both the Syrian people and the United States in the international fight against terrorism."

The Obama administration has also boosted its military support to Iraqi forces battling ISIS, ordering another 200 U.S. forces there. There are now a total of about 750 U.S. forces in Iraq.