The U.S. should be prepared to bomb the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the siege of Aleppo and enforce safe zones to protect civilians, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said in the vice presidential debate Tuesday night.
Pence also called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "small and bullying leader" in remarks that contrasted with those of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and appeared to line up more with those of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who has also called for a humanitarian safe zone in Syria.
During the debate in Farmville, Virginia, with Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and Clinton's running mate, Pence said, "I just have to tell you that provocations [in Syria] by Russia need to be met with American strength.
"And if Russia chooses to be involved and continue, I should say, to be involved in this barbaric attack on Aleppo, the United States of America should use military force to strike the targets of the Assad regime, and prevent Aleppo," he said.
Pence added, "I truly do believe that what America ought to do right now is to immediately establish safe zones, so that families and vulnerable families with children can move out of those areas [and] work with our Arab partners in real time to make that happen."
Earlier Tuesday, at a rally in Prescott, Arizona, Trump called on Russia to stop joining with Assad's air forces in bombing Aleppo and return to the cease-fire agreement that collapsed last month. He did not go as far as Pence in stating that the U.S. should consider using force to stop the Russians and Syrians.
"Russia broke the deal, and now they're shooting, they're bombing, something like that," Trump said. "It should end, and it should end fast," Reuters reported him saying.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the British-based monitoring group, reported Wednesday that the bombardment of Aleppo had killed at least 456 civilians, including 83 children and 33 women, since the cease-fire agreement collapsed Sept. 19.
The White House, U.S. State Department and Pentagon have repeatedly rejected the pleas of human rights groups for the creation of a safe zone or a no-fly zone along the Turkish border to protect thousands of refugees fleeing Aleppo in northern Syria.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program Wednesday, John Podesta, a top Clinton adviser, said Pence's remarks in the debate amounted to "backflips on Russia" that went beyond what Trump has proposed.
"He made a whole new policy up on Syria, which embraced Hillary Clinton's approach to what's going on in Syria," Podesta said.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, went further in calling for U.S. action to stop "the wanton slaughter of innocent Syrians" by Russian and regime forces.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, prepared before the vice presidential debate, McCain said, "The U.S. and its coalition partners must issue an ultimatum to Mr. Assad -- stop flying or lose your aircraft -- and be prepared to follow through."
"If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk. And we must create safe zones for Syrian civilians and do what is necessary to protect them against violations by Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin and extremist forces," said McCain, who has criticized the Obama administration's Syria policy as "feckless."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.