General 'Frustrated' By Pace of Training Iraqi Forces

From ABC News' Kirit Radia:

Are the Iraqis ready to take over security?

Administration spokesmen yesterday insisted that despite the day’s massive truck bombings in Iraq, the country’s security forces are up to the task and ready to provide security. But today the top US general in charge of security transition said he was “frustrated” by the pace of training for Iraqi security forces.

“What I am personally frustrated with is that, again, we must continue to develop the capabilities inside the Iraqi military. And we are doing that as fast as we can. My frustration is we -- I am not doing it fast enough,” Lt Gen Frank Helmick told Pentagon reporters via video conference from Iraq.

He was responding to a question asking if he was frustrated that the Iraqis have not asked for more help in providing security. The general said he was not.

The general said it will be difficult to stand up some of the more complex Iraqi security units before US troops pull out. US forces will drop down to 50,000 trainers by August of next year and zero by the end of 2011. Helmick would not say if trainers might have to stay beyond 2011.

“It is very, very complex,” he said.

“We look towards 2011, December 2011, and we do not have a crystal ball, that's for sure. The security situation will impact on how fast we can accelerate a capability for the security forces,” the general said, making special note that Iraqi control of its air sovereignty “could be a challenge by the end of December 2011.”

He said an assessment team from Washington is arriving in Iraq next week to look at Iraq’s Air Force development.

Helmick said he was frustrated, too, that it takes so long to stand up more advanced security units like forensics teams, intelligence officers, and logistics systems.

“All of these things are very, very difficult to do, and it takes time,” he said.

“Those are the kinds of difficult things as we move forward into the rest of 2009 and '10 that we really have to focus on and accelerate. That is my personal frustration with where we are today,” he added.

That said, Helmick did have some praise for the Iraqi security forces he is training.

“The Iraqi security forces have demonstrated their increased capability, and the declining number of attacks over time is proof of that. Yes, we have much work to be done, and the U.S. forces will continue to work with the people of Iraq to improve the capabilities of their security forces,” he said.

“The government of Iraq is also making positive strides in the professionalization of their security institutions,” he added.

He said that the US did provide assistance to the Iraqis following a request after the bombings. That help included intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, medical, and forensic assistance, per the Iraqi request.

“We have provided any and all requests that the government of Iraq -- any of all capability that the government of Iraq has asked for,” Helmick said.

Asked if the SOFA deal needed to be looked at again, Helmick replied: “The review of any security agreement with the Iraqi government is up to the government of Iraq and the United States. That is a policy decision that will have to be discussed between the two governments.”

Asked about recent comments from General Odierno that US troops may be sent to Iraq’s north, where tensions between Kurds and the Baghdad government are festering, Helmick said: “This is a concept that General Odierno has discussed with Prime Minister Maliki. So it's yet to be determined exactly what will happen.”

“There's no question that this -- the relationships between the government of Iraq and the central -- the Kurdish regional government is something that is foremost on everyone's mind here,” he added. “There was no discussion with me about moving any trainers from the Multi-National Security Transition Command up north. Not at all.”

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