US general: 8,000 troops remain in Iraq

The U.S. military has 8,000 troops left in Iraq as it continues its move to withdraw all troops before the end of the year, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick said Thursday.

Helmick, deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, said in a conference call from Baghdad that all troops will be out of the country before this month ends, as planned.

As U.S. troops leave Iraq, the question remains how successful Iraqi security forces will be at preventing violence from recurring, Helmick said.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Helmick said. “We do know we have done everything we can in the time that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure they have a credible security force to provide for the internal security of their country.”

Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates who have attacked President Obama for not pushing harder to keep some level of troops in Iraq have warned that Iran will exert its influence over Iraq once U.S. troops are gone.

Helmick said the biggest challenges facing Iraqi security forces are logistical issues between a multitude of different police agencies, their ability to sustain forces and their ability to share intelligence.

After U.S. troops leave, the nation will continue to have an embassy in Baghdad with 16,000 people. Helmick said the embassy will have to rely on Iraqi police forces to keep the it secure.

“We have no option,” he said. “My gut tells me they will be capable to do this. They’re doing it today.”

More than 10,000 U.S. troops have left the country since Thanksgiving, when about 20,000 troops remained. The U.S. still has five bases there, Helmick said.

In addition to the troop withdrawal, Helmick said the military is in “very good shape” getting its equipment out of the country and less than 1,000 truckloads remain.