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In Their Words: The Candidates on Commander-in-Chief Issues

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will answer questions in NBC News' Commander-in-Chief forum Wednesday night, here they are on the issues.
Image:Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Donald Trump
Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Donald Trump.Alex Wong / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face questions on military issues, national security and veterans affairs at NBC News' Commander-in-Chief Forum Wednesday, hosted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Trump and Clinton espouse vastly different views on how to fight terrorism and deploy U.S. troops, although those positions don’t always hew to the traditional divide on national security issues between the two parties.

Trump has said that he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and has advocated for the increased use of tactics like waterboarding, but he has also pushed for a less interventionist foreign policy in favor of the mantra “America First.” Clinton has apologized for her 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq War, although she has defended her support of the 2011 intervention to overthrow Libya’s dictator.

Related: Watch the NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum

Both candidates also differ on the best way to improve health care for veterans and on how to support American troops once they are back on home soil.

We looked into what both candidates have said in the past about some of the most important issues that will face the next commander-in-chief. Here are some of their key positions, in their own words:

How to fight ISIS

Donald Trump: “My Administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cutoff their funding, expanded intelligence sharing, and cyber warfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting. ...Unlike Hillary Clinton, who has risked so many lives with her careless handling of sensitive information, my Administration will not telegraph exact military plans to the enemy.” -- August 15, 2016. Remarks on terrorism, Youngstown, Ohio.

Trump: “I am also going to convene my top generals and give them a simple instruction: they will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for defeating ISIS. Any nation who shares in this goal will be our friend in this mission.” -- September 6, 2016. Speech in Greenville, NC.

Hillary Clinton: “It is time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria. That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allied planes, more strikes, and a broader target set. A key obstacle standing in the way is a shortage of good intelligence about ISIS and its operations. So we need an immediate 'intelligence surge' in the region, including technical assets, Arabic speakers with deep expertise in the Middle East, and even closer partnership with regional intelligence services.” -- November 19, 2015. Remarks on terrorism, Washington D.C.

Image: ISIS flag, ISIS recruits
Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq on June 16, 2014. AP, file

Troops on the ground to fight ISIS

Donald Trump: “I would listen to the generals, but I'm hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000. We have to knock them out fast.” -- March 10, 2016, CNN Republican debate, Miami

Trump: “I said that that’s a number that I heard would be needed. I would find it very, very hard to send that many troops to take care of it. I would say this, I would put tremendous pressure on other countries that are over there to use their troops and I’d give them tremendous air supporters and support , because we have to get rid of ISIS.” -- March 21, 2016. Interview with The Washington Post

Trump: “I am going to have very few troops on the ground. We're going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need; which, right now, we don't have. We don't have the people over there.” -- July 17, 2016. Interview with CBS News.

Hillary Clinton: “Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East. That is just not the smart move to make here. If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities. We can help them, and we should, but we cannot substitute for them.” -- November 19, 2015. Remarks on terrorism, Washington D.C.

Clinton: [“Trump has] talked about sending ground troops -- American ground troops -- well, that is off the table, as far as I'm concerned." -- August 15, 2016. Campaign speech, Scranton, Pennsylvania.

A fighter of forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) fires towards positions of the Islamic State group's jihadists on September 3, 2016 in the coastal city of Sirte.MAHMUD TURKIA / AFP - Getty Images

On intervention in Libya

Donald Trump: “[Cruz] said I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. I was in favor of Libya? We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now. If these politicians went to the beach and didn't do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Gadhafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, we'd be -- at least they killed terrorists, all right?” -- February 25, 2016. CNN-Telemundo debate, Houston

Trump: “I didn't mind surgical. And I said surgical. You do a surgical shot and you take them out. But I wasn't for what happened… I was never for a strong intervention. I could have seen surgical, where you take out Gadhafi and his group.” -- June 5, 2016. Interview with CBS News

Hillary Clinton: “We had a murderous dictator, Gadhafi, who had American blood on his hands, as I'm sure you remember, threatening to massacre large numbers of the Libyan people. We had our closest allies in Europe burning up the phone lines begging us to help them try to prevent what they saw as a mass genocide, in their words. And we had the Arabs standing by our side saying, "We want you to help us deal with Gadhafi. Our response, which I think was smart power at its best, is that the United States will not lead this. We will provide essential, unique capabilities that we have, but the Europeans and the Arabs had to be first over the line. We did not put one single American soldier on the ground in Libya.”-- October 13, 2015. CNN Democratic debate, Las Vegas

On waterboarding

Donald Trump: “They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it's fine. And if we want to go stronger, I'd go stronger, too, because, frankly... that's the way I feel. Can you imagine -- can you imagine these people, these animals over in the Middle East, that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we're having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.” -- March 3, 2016. Fox News Republican debate in Detroit.

Hillary Clinton: “You know, as to waterboarding, you know, our country's most experienced and bravest military leaders will tell you that torture is not effective. It does put our own soldiers, and increasingly our own civilians, at risk. But we do have to give law enforcement and intelligence professionals all the tools they need to do the job to keep America safe. And they don't need to resort to torture, but they are going to need more help.” -- March 22, 2016. Interview on NBC News.

Image: Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, December 20, 2012.MAXIM SHEMETOV / Reuters

On Russia

Donald Trump: “I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly but there's nothing that I can think of that I'd rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now so that we can go and knock out ISIS together with other people and with other countries. Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with people, wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia?” -- July 27, 2016. Press conference, Miami.

Hillary Clinton: “Trump himself heaps praise on Putin and embrace pro-Russian policies. He talks casually of abandoning our NATO allies, recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and of giving the Kremlin a free hand in Eastern Europe more generally. American presidents from Truman to Reagan have rejected the kind of approach Trump is taking on Russia.” -- August 25, 2016. Speech in Reno.

On the GI bill

Donald Trump: Trump has only addressed this issue once, in a May 9 interview with CNN, and his answer wasn't quite clear. Here's that transcript:

CHRIS CUOMO: On the military, you raise an important issue. We tried to get your campaign and the other campaigns to hold forth on whether or not they supported the current G.I. bill. As you know, in the Congress, they did this sneaky vote in the House where there was no roll call, and they were going to cut money from the G.I. bill to allow for other expenditures for vets. The vets were very upset. They said 'no, don't take money from us and reallocate it. Find the savings elsewhere.'Do you support maintaining the G.I. bill the way it is right now and even growing it instead of cutting it?DONALD TRUMP: I don't want to be hurting our vets. Our vets have been hurt enough. We treat illegal immigrants better than we treat our vets. So I'm going to do nothing to hurt our vets. I'm going to only help the vets --CHRIS CUOMO: So is that a yes? --DONALD TRUMP: -- unlike Hillary Clinton, that thinks the vets are getting too much. And they're not getting too much. I've traveled, I've seen so many vets, I know so many vets now, and I have a lot of friends -- I have developed great friendships among the vets. Our vets are being treated so badly --CHRIS CUOMO: So is that a yes, I do support the current G.I. bill?DONALD TRUMP: No. I want to bring jobs back to our country.

Hillary Clinton: “I will protect, preserve and defend the post-9/11 G.I. bill. It has opened doors of opportunity to more than one million veterans and family members. Unfortunately, there are some Republicans in Congress chipping away at it. That's not just wrong, it is shortsighted.” -- July 25, 2016. Clinton speech to VFW convention in Charlotte.

On privatizing the VA

Donald Trump: “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.” -- July 11, 2016, Virginia Beach.

Hillary Clinton:“We are going to build a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs that delivers world-class care, and we are not going to let anyone privatize the V.A. We're going to reform and strengthen it, not privatize it.” -- August 31, 2016. American Legion National Convention.

Image: FILE:  Delays "Systemic" In Phoenix VA Hospital Veteran Affairs Clinics To Be Audited After Patient Deaths At Phoenix Hospital
Exterior view of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on May 8, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. Christian Petersen / Getty Images