“We’d rather them to stay,” says an Iraqi soldier, who asked to remain anonymous for personal security reasons. “We’ve depended on US soldiers for a long time. When they leave, we don’t know how it’s going to go.”
The training of Iraqi security forces has long been the crux of the American exit strategy in Iraq. As Iraqi security forces stand up, so the old Pentagon saw went, US forces will stand down. Now that time has come, and the outcome of that ultimate goal – an Iraqi force ready to provide for the country's security – remains a lingering question.
American commanders, for their part, say they would not presume to hazard a guess.
“I wish I knew the answer,” Gen. Frank Helmick, the No. 2 American commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters last week. “We really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
It’s no secret that many senior Pentagon officials pushed hard for US troops to stay past the security agreement that requires all American military forces to be out of Iraq by year’s end. But US commanders on the ground report some positive signs that Iraqi troops are doing just fine.
To his frank admission, Helmick added a dash of optimism. “We do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have a credible security force.”
Though the small base here was hit with a double rocket explosion Sunday morning (which remaining US residents likened to the sound and physical thud of a loud door slam), security has been solid, US officials say. That's no no small feat, they add, given expectations that Iraqi insurgents will try to earn their bragging rights by taking final potshots at American forces.