The Republican nominee repeated his praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday during the televised forum, where he and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton were each given 30 minutes to field questions on national security and the military.
Trump said the Kremlin strongman is “very much of a leader” and “has very strong control over a country”.
Describing Russian democracy as “a very different system”, which the US billionaire said he didn’t particularly like, he continued: “but certainly in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”
Trump vowed to demand a plan from US military leaders to defeat the “Islamic State” (IS) extremist group within 30 days of taking office.
He accused the Obama administration of undermining the military, after being questioned about his harsh criticism of the country’s current army chiefs.
“I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point that’s embarrassing for our country,” Trump said, in front of an audience of military veterans.
Not to be confused with the leadership debates—the first of which takes place on 26 September—Wednesday’s forum saw each candidate grilled separately. The interviews were held aboard the historic aircraft carrier the USS Intrepid, docked off New York City.
Clinton, who was interviewed first, faced more questions over the email scandal, following revelations she handled government emails on a private server while secretary of state.
“It was a mistake to have a personal account. I would certainly not do it again. I make no excuses for it,” Clinton responded, stressing she had not improperly handled classified information.
Clinton vowed not to send US ground troops to fight IS in Iraq or Syria, while highlighting her national security experience compared to Trump’s unpredictability in the face of the terrorism threat.
She said she had “an absolute rock steadiness” to be able to make tough decisions.
Wednesday’s forum was the first time the pair had squared off on the same stage since accepting their parties’ presidential nominations in July for the election on 8 November.