WASHINGTON - US Senator John McCain said on Wednesday, two
days after meeting with rebels in Syria, that he is confident the United States
can send weapons to fighters in Syria without the risk they will fall into the
"We can identify who these people are. We can help the right
people," McCain said on CNN's program "Anderson Cooper 360."
Republican, is an outspoken advocate for US military aid to the rebels
fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad and has angrily denounced Democratic
President Barack Obama - McCain's opponent in his failed 2008 presidential race
- for shying away from deeper US involvement in the conflict, which has
claimed 80,000 lives.
Critics of some lawmakers' push to arm the rebels
have expressed concerns that weapons could end up in the hands of militants who
might eventually end up using them against the United States or its
But McCain said such radical fighters make up only a small part
of the rebels forces.
For example, he said, Syria's Islamist al-Nusra
Front, identified as an alias of al Qaeda in Iraq, accounts for only about 7,000
of the 100,000 fighters battling the government of Assad.
day, more and more extremists flow in... "They're flowing in all the time, these
extremists. But they still do not make up a sizeable portion," the Arizona
The Obama administration, saying it is keeping all options
on the table, has sent food and medical supplies to Assad's opponents. US
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also
have been trying to organize an international peace conference on
McCain said he was escorted during his visit on Monday by General
Salem Idris, leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, and
that he had a long meeting with Idris and a group of his battalion
"They're very disturbed about the dramatic influx of
Hezbollah fighters, more Iranians and of course stepped up activities of Bashar
Assad," McCain said.
US public opinion is strongly against direct
military involvement in Syria, but McCain said no one, including Idris and his
commanders, wants American "boots on the ground." However, he said the rebel
forces made clear they want US weapons. "Their message was ... They do not
understand. They do not understand why we won't help them," McCain said.