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McCain says visit to Colombia not tied to raid

  • Story Highlights
  • John McCain was in Colombia during the rescue of hostages from FARC
  • He says he learned about the raid only the night before it happened
  • Secret agents posed as leftist rebels to free 15 hostages from Colombian jungle
  • Barack Obama campaign says Obama was not briefed before mission
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(CNN) -- The White House said Thursday that neither it nor the State Department gave Sen. John McCain advance word of a rescue mission in Colombia while he was in the country.

McCain was told of the raid the night before by Colombia's president and defense minister, but his visit had nothing to do with it, he said Wednesday night.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, was in Colombia on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a three-day Latin American swing.

Colombian agents freed 15 hostages from the jungle Wednesday. The agents rescued the hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, by pretending to be rebels themselves, authorities in Colombia said.

The hostages, who had endured several years in captivity, included former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors and 11 police officers and soldiers.

Immediately after the raid, speculation arose as to how much information McCain knew beforehand.

White House press secretary Dana Perino replied "absolutely not," when asked if anyone in the White House or State Department had briefed McCain.

"I've heard nothing to suggest that there was any connection. I just think it was coincidence," Perino said.

McCain had said on Wednesday after the raid was announced that the timing of his trip was a coincidence.

"I would remind you that these things require incredibly long planning and coordination, etc. There's no way possible that it could have had anything to do with our visit that I could imagine," McCain told reporters following the rescue. Video Watch as McCain hails release of hostages »

Plans for the mission had been in the works for months, when Colombian agents penetrated the leadership group of FARC, the extreme left-wing guerrilla group that has carried out attacks and kidnappings against the government since its formation in the 1960s, Gen. Freddy Padilla de Leon told CNN. Video Watch more on the history of FARC rebels »

The United States recently obtained specific intelligence that helped pinpoint the location of the hostages, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

The United States shared that information with the Colombian government, which carried out the actual rescue with minimal logistical support from the United States, the official said. Video Watch how the hostages were rescued »

McCain was traveling with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the defense minister pulled them aside Tuesday night to tell them of their military's plans, McCain said.

The briefing took place after McCain met with Colombian officials in Cartagena and before his joint press conference with the president.

McCain had earlier said he would do everything he could to help Colombia secure the rescue of the hostages.

"I would leave the modalities to the government of the country of Colombia. It is a sovereign nation. But I intend to do everything I can to support and increase their capabilities and continue their success against FARC and bring about as quickly as possible the release of all hostages," he said in Colombia, before he said he knew about the rescue.

McCain learned of the mission's success as his plane was departing Colombia for Mexico, he said. An aide showed him news of the report on his Blackberry. McCain then talked to Uribe while on the plane.

Asked if he thought it was unusual that he was told of the plans beforehand, McCain said, "I have been informed as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee of plans for years and years and years about plans that are going to be carried out either by the United States or our friends and allies."

Barack Obama was not told about the plans in advance, Obama's campaign said.

Lieberman said he thinks it was a "sign of confidence" that Uribe and the defense minister shared the classified information with McCain.


McCain announced plans for his visit to Colombia and Mexico last week and contended that Colombia is "succeeding in combating the FARC."

Uribe, the popular second-term president whose father was killed by FARC rebels in 1983, has made eliminating the rebel group a central cause of his administration.

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