Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence said Monday there's no difference between his military plans in the Middle East and those of running mate Donald Trump, saying both back U.S. military action in Syria only to secure "safe zones" for civilians.

The clarification came just hours after the second presidential debate, where Trump was asked if he agreed with Pence's previous statements that America should be prepared to use force against Syrian president Bashar Assad and Russian forces in the region.

"He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree," Trump said, later adding: "We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved."

But in a series of television news interviews Monday morning, Pence — the Republican governor of Indiana — accused debate moderators of twisting his words and creating a false controversy.

"Donald Trump and I are committed to working with the international community to establish safe zones," he said during an appearance on MSNBC. "And I said at the time if we need to use military power to secure those safe zones, to prevent further aggression by Russia or the Assad regime, we should be prepared to do it."  

On CNN, Pence stated that the Trump campaign's policy is "safe zones for people suffering in Syria, but also his focus is on destroying ISIS in Syria, not regime change. I think the way (moderators) framed that is that we ought to use military power to effect regime change, and I never said that." He also made similar statements in a Fox News interview Monday morning.

During the vice presidential debate a week earlier, Pence said that "America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo."

But he also said that "provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength" and later said that "when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they're dealing with a strong American president."

The comments come as the White House and Congress are grappling with the U.S. military’s increasing involvement in the Middle East. The number of American troops in the region now totals nearly 6,000, five years after the announced withdrawal of all military personnel from Iraq at the end of the war there.

Both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, have pushed for both safe zones and no-fly zones in Syria to protect civilians fleeing the fighting.

Clinton has also advocated stepping up U.S. airstrikes in the region and continued use of special forces to help allies there, but vowed not push U.S. forces into roles where they need to hold territory.

Pence and Trump have accused her of advocating over-intervention and regime change, exhausting America’s already extended military might.

During his television appearances, Pence also pushed back on rumors that he was considering leaving Trump’s campaign over his newly surfaced comments on pursuing and assaulting women, saying that the Republican ticket is unified.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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