Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump used the final national debate Wednesday to accuse U.S. military officials of rushing the siege on Islamic State group strongholds in Mosul to help his Democratic rival win the November election.
“The only reason they did it is because she is running for the office of president,” he said, pointing to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. “And they want to look tough. They want to look good.”
Clinton responded by calling that claim part of a larger pattern of paranoia by the business mogul turned politician, once again questioning his qualifications to serve as commander in chief.
“I'm just amazed that he seems to think that the Iraqi government and our allies and everybody else launched the attack on Mosul to help me in this election,” he said. “But that's how Donald thinks, you know. He's looking for some conspiracy. He has all of these conspiracies.”
Earlier in the event -- the third debate for the two major-party nominees in the last month -- Trump refused to say he’ll accept the results of the November election if he loses, suggesting that federal officials could be working with Clinton’s campaign to influence the outcome.
“What I'm saying now is I will tell you at the time (of the results),” he said, eliciting gasps and applause from the bipartisan debate crowd. “I will keep you in suspense.”
Clinton called that appalling and “talking down our democracy.”
The Iraqi advance on the city of Mosul in recent days has included U.S. aircraft and advisory troops, part of a months-long plan to retake the key stronghold near the country’s border with Syria. The operation includes more than 25,000 allied foreign troops, and close coordination with U.S. and Iraqi military leaders.
Trump was critical not only of the timing but of advance public comments about the operation.
“About three months ago, I started reading that they want to get the (ISIS) leaders,” he said. “And they're going to attack Mosul. Whatever happened to the element of surprise? … Douglas MacArthur, George Patton spinning in their graves when they see the stupidity of our country.”
Trump deflected questions on how he’d handle the current military offensive, and whether he would station U.S. troops in the city after fighting ends to provide security.
Clinton quickly dismissed the idea of such a U.S. security force.
“I will not support putting American forces into Iraq as an occupying force,” she said. “I don't think that is in our interest and I don't think it would be smart to do. I think that would be a big red flag waving for ISIS to reconstitute itself.”
She continued to push for “a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria” to help deal with the threat of terrorists in the region, but did not discuss the potential U.S. military forces needed to enforce that plan.
The two sparred for the third consecutive debate over the 2004 Iraq War, with Trump claiming he never supported the military action and Clinton saying public comments show he clearly did.
Trump repeated his past accusation that Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State helped create and strengthen ISIS. Clinton responded by noting that when she was monitoring the military operation to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011, “you were doing Celebrity Apprentice.”
And as in each of the previous debates, neither candidate was questioned or mentioned Afghanistan, and neither talked about any significant veterans policy plans. Trump repeated his campaign trail charge that “we take care of illegal immigrants better than vets” but again offered no specifics on that charge.
The presidential election is scheduled for Nov. 8.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at