Sen. John McCain wanted to spend the night with rebels linked to kidnappers during his visit to Syria in May, according to a pundit who has been advocating an American strike against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Elizabeth O’Bagy, Syria team leader at the Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Caller the Arizona Republican was so taken with his Sunni guerrilla hosts that he had to be “forced” by his security detail to leave.
In an exclusive interview with TheDC, O’Bagy described the trip she arranged for the senator through the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF).
“The rebels had opened their doors and were welcoming McCain to stay and have dinner at their house and stay the night,” O’Bagy said. “It was a very fascinating trip…It was really great to see an American politician reach out to the Syrian people in ways that no one else has done.”
McCain communications director Brian Rogers confirmed O’Bagy’s account. “Yes,” Rogers wrote in an email to The Daily Caller, “he wanted visit with them longer, including until the next day.”
“Senator McCain’s security detail was forcing him to leave and was pushing him out the door and wanted to get him back to Turkey…Senator McCain wanted to stay the night and learn more about the rebels. One of the messages that McCain got from Idris is that the opposition “didn’t need pizza but needed weapons,” O’Bagy said.
O’Bagy wasn’t troubled by McCain’s desire to spend the night with a group formerly run by kidnappers. In the Beirut Daily Star, a former hostage held by the anti-regime Northern Storm Brigade identified one of the men in a photo with McCain as Mohammad Nour, the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm kidnappers. The former hostage told the paper he had seen Nour several times and been photographed by him during his captivity.
O’Bagy tried to clear up “confusion” that McCain may have met with Syrian kidnappers.
“In this case, there was a brigade commander of a very specific brigade in Syria who kidnapped these Lebanese people,” O’Bagy explained. “However he was essentially eventually [sic] he had done so much to anger the more moderate groups within his own brigade that they ended up replacing him with a more moderate and well respected commander. When we brought Senator John McCain in, he had met with this new leader of this more moderate force that had pushed out this other group that was led by the former leader, who in every way were bad guys. They were kidnappers and looters… They were pushed out and the more moderates tried to control their behavior.”
O’Bagy insisted that none of the commanders used the name of one of the alleged kidnappers, but she did not know if he might have been using a nom de guerre.
McCain didn’t ask the rebels about their views.
O’Bagy said Senator McCain spoke to General Idris as one “military man to military man, almost as if it was one commander to another.”
O’Bagy came away impressed with the senator.
“To be frank, I was never a big McCain supporter because I was very much against the Iraq War,” says O’Bagy, who was registered as a Democrat in Utah. “I was like adamantly against the Iraq War and so I was a little bit reluctant to work so closely with him but he’s really, I think, been a true advocate for the Syrian people and has been great to work with at least in terms of Syria.”