McCain’s secret visit to Kobani throws up questions

John McCain

Republican Senator John McCain secretly visited the autonomous region in northern Syria during a trip to the Middle East to meet with American military officials and Kurdish fighters, the Wall Street Journal reported.

McCain made the sudden trip to visit multiple countries from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, during which he discussed the struggle against the Islamic State (IS) group.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the senator, who also chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, visited the northern Syrian town of Kobani, which borders Turkey and is also less than 100 miles from Aleppo. The town is part of an autonomous administration called the Northern Syrian Federation established by the Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and Turkmen and was the location of a successful defence against an IS siege back in 2014.

The Senator’s unannounced visit to Syria was followed by a meeting with President Erdogan, where both parties agreed that co-operation was vital for an operation on Raqqa. McCain has been an advocate of arming members of the Free Syrian Army since 2013.

News of McCain’s visit to Kobani has thrown up many questions as to what was discussed. While Turkey has been trying to convince the Trump administration of favouring Turkish-backed FSA groups in leading the assault on Raqqa, many of the anti-IS coalition’s military officials have said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the YPG, a group Ankara views as a terrorist organisation, is the best outfit to capture IS’s capital in Syria.

McCain has been at loggerheads with US President Donald Trump and was also critical of former President Barack Obama and accused him of being responsible for the escalation of the Syrian crisis. Some commentators have viewed McCain’s sporadic visits as interventions into Middle Eastern politics.