By CNN's Charley Keyes
The U.S. military is on a carefully orchestrated fast track to the exits in Iraq but a top U.S. General admitted Wednesday that the Iraqis are still vulnerable, especially from the air.
“The Iraqis understand that they have a gap - they have a gap in being able to defend their airspace if someone wanted to come inside that airspace that didn't want to be seen,” Lieutenant General Frank Helmick said. “How they deal with that gap is really up to them.”.
As all U.S. forces complete their withdrawal by the end of the year deadline, Helmick’s could be the last of a series of military briefings beamed from Iraq to the Pentagon briefing room.
As Deputy Commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, he praised U.S. and Iraqi efforts to build up Iraqi security forces, but pointed to several potential weaknesses.
“There are challenges, external security threats, Iranian- backed militias, Al Qaeda, other violent extremist organizations that the Iraqis must continue to put constant pressure on those groups.” Helmick said. “There are some, still some security gaps that exist: their air sovereignty, their air defense capability, the ability to protect the two oil platforms, and then the ability to do combined arm operations for an external defense, synchronizing their infantry with their armor, with their artillery, with their engineers,” he said. “They're not quite there with that capability.”
He said that for eight years the U.S. military had worked with Iraqi forces to present the country with its freedom. “If I had to define what our greatest legacy is, it would be the concepts of professionalism, confidence, esprit de corps that we've instilled inside the Iraqi security forces, and also the friendships and relationships we've forged with them,” Helmick said.