Local News

Bragg general works to meet deadline for Iraq pullout

Posted April 1, 2011 4:51 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2011 6:25 p.m. EDT

— The deadline imposed by President Barack Obama for the U.S. to pull its military out of Iraq is nine months away, and Fort Bragg commander Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick is on the front lines of ensuring that timetable is met.

Helmick is in charge of day-to-day operations to train Iraqi security forces – about 300,000 military members and 500,000 police officers – so they can take over for U.S. troops.

After eight years of deployment, all 50,000 U.S. troops, including 750 from Fort Bragg, must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31.

"This is a tremendous amount of work," Helmick said Friday during a video teleconference with U.S. reporters. "What we say around here is the days are really, really long, but the weeks are really, really short."

He acknowledged that insurgents continue to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces, but he said the country is not nearly as violent as it was a few years ago. In 2007, there were about 6,000 attacks every month, he said, but that number is now down to about 300 a month.

"We have made an incredible difference in this country," he said. "Do we still have these sensational large attacks? Yes, we do. It illustrates how dangerous the country is."

Much like what happened in Egypt, Libya and Syria, factions opposed to the government are beginning to speak out in Iraq. People have demanded better services, but Helmick said Iraqi security forces have risen to the occasion.

“They are attacking Iraqi security forces and they are trying to discredit the government of Iraq,” he said. "(The security forces) have been patient. They've been confident. They've been professional."

Helmick said he doesn't think the country, with its ethnic rivalries, will fall apart once U.S. troops leave.

"They have a very capable force right now to provide internal security," he said.

As to whether troops should stay longer, he defers to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"He understands the challenges he's facing, and what he does with that is up to him," he said.