General Calls Iraq Operations ‘Worth It’ in Final News Briefing

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2011 — As the final U.S. mil­i­tary con­voys roll out of Iraq these next three weeks, mark­ing the end of eight years of oper­a­tions, Amer­i­cans can be proud of the work ser­vice mem­bers did there, U.S. Forces Iraq’s deputy com­mand­ing gen­er­al said today.

In USFI’s final news brief­ing from Bagh­dad, Army Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick told the Pen­ta­gon press corps that Amer­i­cans and Iraqis will have dif­fer­ent opin­ions about whether Oper­a­tions Iraqi Free­dom and New Dawn “were worth it.”

“From where I sit, it was,” Helmick said.

It was because of the U.S. mil­i­tary role that the coun­try held his­toric elec­tions in March 2010, giv­ing Iraq “the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a sov­er­eign future,” the gen­er­al said. And, he added, vio­lence is at an eight-year low.

Helmick said his beliefs are under­scored by the pos­i­tive com­ments of some wound­ed war­riors and fam­i­ly mem­bers of the fall­en, which totals more than 4,500 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers.

“My firm belief is that there is no oth­er mil­i­tary in the world that can do what yours did in Iraq,” he said. “For eight years, they have been build­ing and secur­ing this coun­try.”

U.S. troops’ great­est lega­cy in Iraq, Helmick said, is in the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, con­fi­dence and esprit de corps of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.

“We gave 28 mil­lion Iraqis the great­est gift any­one can give and that is their free­dom,” he said.

Helmick marked the his­toric occa­sion by call­ing the vet­er­ans of Iraq oper­a­tions the next “Great­est Gen­er­a­tion,” a ref­er­ence to those who served in World War II.

“The sig­nif­i­cance of this day does­n’t escape me,” the gen­er­al said on the 70th anniver­sary of the Japan­ese attack on Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. For their ser­vice in Iraq, he said, “Amer­i­ca dis­cov­ered the next great­est gen­er­a­tion.”

“Words can­not begin to express the pride I feel about America’s mil­i­tary per­for­mance and ser­vice in Iraq,” he added.

The 18-month process of draw­ing down forces in Iraq “is sim­ply his­toric,” going from 300,000 ser­vice mem­bers and more than 5,000 instal­la­tions in 2007 to 8,000 troops and five bases today, Helmick said. Mil­i­tary dri­vers have logged 16 mil­lion miles, “mov­ing a moun­tain of equip­ment and per­son­nel,” most­ly through south­ern Iraq and into Kuwait, and have few­er than 1,000 truck­loads left, he said.

U.S. forces built the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces to more than 700,000, trained them, and left them with “some of the best [equip­ment] we have,” includ­ing the M1 Abrams tank and artillery equip­ment, the gen­er­al said. U.S. forces also were in charge of the country’s secu­ri­ty until 2010 when Iraqi forces took the lead.

Every piece of U.S. mil­i­tary equip­ment “goes through an ago­niz­ing process” of deter­min­ing whether it should be shipped out of the coun­try or left for the Iraqis, Helmick said. The U.S. mil­i­tary has incurred sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings in trans­porta­tion costs by leav­ing equip­ment, name­ly office fur­ni­ture, in Iraq, he said.

Iraq still has chal­lenges, Helmick said, includ­ing con­tin­ued threats from al-Qai­da and oth­er ter­ror­ist groups, Iran­ian med­dling, and inter­nal eth­nic ten­sions.

Iraq has made good progress on police work, the gen­er­al said, and is capa­ble of secur­ing the coun­try inter­nal­ly, if not exter­nal­ly.

The Iraqis under­stand they have a secu­ri­ty gap if some­one comes into their air space who does­n’t want to be seen,” he said.

Whether or not the Iraqis choose a future U.S. mil­i­tary role in secu­ri­ty is up to them, the gen­er­al said.

“The sense I get from the Iraqis is that they want to have a strong rela­tion­ship with our coun­try,” he said.

Asked about the military’s “lessons learned” in Iraq, Helmick said, “We per­formed, real­ly, beyond expec­ta­tions.”

Ear­ly on, the gen­er­al said, ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq had to do things they weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly trained to do. They weren’t very good at advis­ing Iraqi farm­ers on wheat crops, “but we did that,” or in help­ing with the oil refin­ery and dis­tri­b­u­tion process­es, “but we did that,” he said.

“The mil­i­tary had to branch out through all the dif­fer­ent por­tions of the gov­ern­ment sec­tor because, at that time, there was no one to pass the ball off to,” Helmick said.

U.S. oper­a­tions in Iraq lat­er became the exam­ple of how best to syn­chro­nize mil­i­tary and civil­ian actions, Helmick said. Amer­i­cans serv­ing in Iraq learned about the country’s cul­ture and enabled the Iraqis to cre­ate a sys­tem of secu­ri­ty and gov­er­nance for them­selves, he said, rather than a tem­plate of how things are done in the Unit­ed States.

As for Iraq’s future secu­ri­ty, Helmick said, “We real­ly don’t know what is going to hap­pen, but we know we’ve done every­thing we can for the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.”

Asked if the Iraqis are capa­ble of doing their part to keep U.S. State Depart­ment employ­ees and con­trac­tors safe when they take over the U.S. role there Jan. 1, the gen­er­al said, “My gut tells me they will be capa­ble to do this — they’re doing it today.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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