War hawk McCain secretly visits Syria ahead of UN talks
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US Senator John McCain secretly traveled to northern Syria last weekend to meet with Kurdish fighters as well as US military officials, in what is being described as a move by a “shadow president” according to Drudge Report.
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, first traveled to an ISIS-held part of Syria in 2013, where he met with their leaders. This was believed to be his first visit to Syria since then. McCain actively supported arming opposition groups in the Syrian conflict.
War hawk McCain’s plan to help his anti-Assad partners in Syria previously, included grounding the Syrian air force from operating in its own sovereign country, creating safe zones for Takfiris and arming the opposition to a democratically elected head of state.
During his trip, McCain also met with Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to discuss international relations, just days before a new round of United Nations-brokered talks on Syria in Geneva is set to start.
Those familiar with McCain’s visit said that the senator traveled to Kobani, the Syrian town on the Turkey border controlled by Kurdish forces since 2012. His office confirmed the visit to establish “safe zones” in Syria.
After traveling to Syria, McCain met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital. Erdogan is eager to get rid of the Kurdish fighters he views as a threat. McCain discussed evolving plans regarding the Islamic State in the Middle East with the Turkish leader.
Ankara believes US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria are “terrorists” aligned with Kurdish separatists in Turkey fighting for autonomy. Erdogan and other Turkish leaders criticized Brett McGurk after he was photographed receiving a plaque from a leader of the Syrian Kurdish force, the Wall Street Journal reported. McGurk, America’s special envoy, who traveled to Kobani last year and met with Kurdish fighters, created a huge uproar in Turkey.
Sources close to Erdogan told Reuters earlier this month that the president in a phone call asked Trump not to arm the Kurds.
McGurk was asked by the Trump administration to stay on in his job, while a debate rages over when and how to launch an assault on Raqqa. President Donald Trump has requested a new plan to tackle the Islamic State, and is expecting a final answer from the US military by the end of the month.
According to the WSJ, the debate centres around whether or not to rely on Kurdish forces to take Raqqa, a city with a Sunni majority that is likely to be wary of Kurdish control. The Islamic State currently runs operations out of their de facto capital of Raqqa. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to launch a successful assault on Raqqa in the coming months without working with Kurdish forces, some US officials say, but Turkish leaders want to sideline the Kurdish fighters. The Turks however have not presented any viable alternative plan, according to American military officials.
It is rare for US politicians to travel to Syria. Last month, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard secretly traveled to Damascus, where she held a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad.
According to a statement released by the Combined Joint Task Force, the anti-ISIS coalition conducted a total of 32 airstrikes on ISIS insurgents on Tuesday, Al Masdar News reported.
Around 23 of the sorties were conducted in Syria while air raids were especially intense over Raqqa. US-led airstrikes were also conducted on Islamic State militants near Deir Ezzor and Palmyra, two cities that have Syrian government forces stationed nearby.
No American airstrikes were conducted on ISIS militants at Al-Bab, suggesting some tension between the US and Turkish-backed forces trying to capture the city.