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Trump backs Russia for 'killing IS' as Aleppo faces destruction

Republican blames 'weak' Democratic policy for spiralling Syrian war, as rival Clinton says Russia should face war crimes inquiry
Clinton speaks as Trump looks on during debate in St Louis, Missouri (AFP)

Donald Trump has been savaged for his comments on the Syria war, blaming Hillary Clinton's "weak foreign policy" for allowing the conflict to spiral, disagreeing with his running mate's comments on using military force, and saying and that Syrian government forces besieging civilians in Aleppo were "killing ISIS".

In a contentious presidential debate in St Louis, the Republican candidate said his Democratic rival was at fault for letting Russia, Iran and the Syrian government take the initiative in the war. In comments about the involvement of Russia, which has waged a relentless bombing campaign against rebel-held east Aleppo, he said: "Russia is killing ISIS... Syria is fighting ISIS."

He dismissed his vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence's comments that the US must be prepared to use force against Bashar al-Assad: "He and I haven't spoken, and he and I disagree."

Trump said: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS,” Trump said. “Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.”

The comments were criticised on Twitter.

Trump's comments were also attacked by Clinton, who said Russia had not "paid any attention" to IS. "Russia is interested in keeping Assad in power."

Clinton said she would specifically target IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, much like the US did when finding Osama bin Laden. She also proposed arming the Kurdish rebels, who are fighting both IS and the Turkish government, a US ally.

“The Kurds have been our best partners in Syria, as well as Iraq,” she said.

Asked what he would do to stop the slaughter from Russian and Syrian air strikes in Aleppo, Trump said “Aleppo has basically fallen”, and repeated that the US should instead concentrate on IS.

In terms of protecting Syrian civilians, both Trump and Clinton said that no-fly zones should be established.

Clinton, meanwhile, said that she would never put ground troops on Syrian soil. “That would be a very serious mistake,” she said.

Clinton also backed the establishment of safe zones in Syria, along with efforts to investigate Russia for war crimes committed in support of Assad.

She said she supported efforts to probe "war crimes committed by the Syrians and the Russians and try to hold them accountable."

Trump accused Clinton of not knowing “who the rebels are”.

While the two candidates argued over Syria, the debate inevitably focused on an 11-year-old video in which Trump boasted of groping women without their consent. Clinton accused Trump of dodging a discussion of policy issues to avoid talking about his campaign because of “the way yours is exploding".

A flood of Republicans have withdrawn their support for Trump over the video.

Trump said he was embarrassed by the video but dismissed it as "locker room talk", Bill Clinton, his rival's husband, had done worse to women, he said.

Policy towards Muslims

Trump and Clinton differed sharply on the issue of policy towards Muslims, with Clinton accusing Trump of giving a "gift to ISIS" by suggesting Muslims be banned from entering the US.

Trump's controversial proposal for a ban on Muslims entering the US has modified in recent months to one in which people from Muslim-majority countries would be subject to what he calls “extreme vetting”.

Trump attacked Clinton and Obama for refusing to use the term “radical Islamic terror”.

"Now to solve a problem you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She won't say the name and President Obama won't say the name. But the name is there, it's radical Islamic terror and before you solve it you have to say the name," Trump said.

Clinton said that Trump's positions and proposals were giving encouragement to extremist groups.

"This is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists, violent jihadist terrorists. We are not at war with Islam, and it is a mistake and it plays into the hands of the terrorists to act as though we are," said Clinton.

Pressed by moderator Martha Raddatz on whether he still supports a ban on Muslims, Trump was evasive, turning the focus instead on Clinton, who he said wanted to allow refugees who may be hostile to the US to flood into the country.

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