Iraq Drawdown Continues: U.S. General says Iraq’s Security Forces Up To Challenge

Another sign today that the US military is leaving Iraq, the Pentagon held its last video briefing from Iraq for Pentagon reporters.  These are the sessions where reporters gather in the Pentagon briefing room to ask questions of a senior military official from Iraq or Afghanistan who appears on a flat-screen TV.

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, had the honor of conducting the last briefing from Iraq.   In his opening remarks Helmick  said he wanted to answer whether the US presence in Iraq was worth it.

"From where I sit, it was," Helmick said, noting that the U.S. had improved security to hold democratic elections and because they will leave behind a trained and capable security force.

The U.S. military numbers keep dropping, 8,000 American troops today.  It was 9,000 on Monday and there are only 5,000 contractors left.   He compared those numbers to 2007 when there were a combined 300,000 US military troops and contractors in Iraq.

The remaining troops are located on five bases and there are fewer than 1,000 truckloads of material to ship out of Iraq by the end of December.    Helmick said that drawdown preparations began 18 months ago and that in that timeframe U.S. military transportation vehicles have driven 16 million miles, or an amount equal to 482 trips around the world.  He said there had been few security incidents that have occurred as the troops have gone south to Kuwait the past few months.

As to what will happen security-wise after the U.S. leaves, Helmick said he wished he knew. "We really don't know what's going to happen. But we do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we - that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have a credible security forces to provide for the security, the internal security of their country."

According to Helmick, the number of Iraqi security forces is 700,000 and he feels their providing for Iraq's internal security shouldn't be a problem.  However he feels that their ability to protect from an external threat is still a question mark, he noted for one the gap that will exist for Iraq in providing for its air sovereignty because of the lack of aircraft.

"My gut tells me that they will be capable to do this," said Helmick or Iraq's security forces abilities after the U.S. completes its drawdown." He added,"If you want a short-term answer, they're doing it today. Yet to be determined longer term. But I'm fairly confident that they'll be able to do it tomorrow and in the future. "

It's the "the professionalism, confidence and esprit de corps of the Iraqi security forces" that he said would be the U.S. military's greatest legacy in Iraq.  "In closing, I want to thank every American who supported us in ways large and small as we built a country's military and we gave 28 million Iraqis really the greatest gift anybody can give, and that's their freedom."