Fort Bragg, N.C. — Fort Bragg’s commanding general says he’s confident that the United States can succeed in its mission to train the Iraqi people to defend their country without foreign help.
That’s despite a suicide bombing in Tikrit on Tuesday that killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 150 others at a police recruiting center.
“I have no doubt that Iraqi security forces will be able to handle the internal security of that country,” Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of Fort Bragg’s XVIII Airborne Corps, told reporters Tuesday.
Helmick is among the approximately 750 Fort Bragg soldiers leaving this week for a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
Even though U.S. combat operations ceased in August, about 50,000 service members remain there training and assisting Iraqi military and civilian security forces to be self-sufficient.
“We’re training them now to look at the external security of the country,” Helmick said. “We’re exactly where we thought we would be.”
President Barack Obama has set a deadline for full U.S. troop withdrawal for Dec. 31.
Helmick said it’s a monumental undertaking to pull completely out of a nation after having built its entire security apparatus, noting that the U.S. is still in Germany and Korea more than half a century after those wars.
“The Iraqis will be the ones to determine whether we vacate or not. It’s not going to be us,” he said. “Our goal is going to be: Get out at the end of 2011. That’s what the president has asked us to do, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
As troops withdraw from Iraq, Helmick says, he estimates that more than 40 percent of Fort Bragg’s 55,000 soldiers and personnel will be deployed by November, most likely to Afghanistan.
"It will be a noticed absence of soldiers at Fort Bragg,” he said.