The deadly Baghdad bombings represent an obvious lapse in security, the U.S. commander in charge of training Iraqi security forces said Thursday, adding that he's frustrated with the pace of some of the training.
Army Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick said he's not certain he can complete some of the high-tech training, including for Iraq's Air Force, by the time U.S. troops are scheduled to leave at the end of 2011.
"We must continue to develop the capability inside the Iraqi military," Helmick said. "We are doing that as fast as we can. My frustration is we — I, am not doing it fast enough."
He said he doesn't know who was responsible for Wednesday's coordinated bombings, which killed more than 100 people and wounded 500. One blast was near Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is blaming Sunni insurgents for the attacks.
The nearly simultaneous attacks intensified questions about the capability of Iraqi security forces and underscored doubts about the government's plan to begin reopening streets and removing blast walls along major city roads.
Helmick told a Pentagon news conference U.S. trainers have built up Iraqi infantry and police forces but tasks such as developing forensic teams, logistical capabilities and intelligence are coming much more slowly.
"The easy part of all that is complete," he said. "We're getting to a very technical, costly part of that now. It's easy to build an infantrymen and an infantry unit. It's very, very difficult and it takes time to build an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technician."
Part of the problem, he said, is that progress depends in part on the Iraqi government's willingness to buy ships and other needed equipment. For example, he said the Iraqis only recently approved the purchase of patrol boats, needed to protect oil platforms off the coast.
Helmick said the boats will take a year to build. That raises concerns the U.S. may not be able to train the crews by the end of 2011.
The Iraqis have made strides in intelligence gathering, Helmick said. For example, their air force has the necessary aircraft to provide intelligence to forces on the ground, and pilots and technicians are being trained.
"I do not want to overstate their capability," Helmick said. "It is a very, very limited, basic capability now, where they are flying sorties and providing live downlinks to mobile stations" on the ground.
The carnage Wednesday shows Iraqis must remain vigilant," he said. "These events clearly demonstrate that security is not only an ongoing process, it really is a never-ending commitment."
He did not respond when asked whether the success of the bombing Wednesday was more a case of mistakes by Iraqi forces or collusion with insurgents. Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the chief Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad, said 11 police and army commanders overseeing security, traffic and intelligence services in the targeted areas have been detained on suspicion of negligence.
"The Iraqi security forces have demonstrated their increased capability and the declining number of attacks over time is proof of that," Helmick said. "Yes, we have much work to be done."