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Schwarzkopf in Farewell to His Troops, Saudis

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, outspoken architect of the U.S.-led victory in the Persian Gulf War, bade an emotional farewell to Saudi Arabia on Saturday and headed home to life as an American folk hero.

Marking the formal end to the U.S. combat role in the Persian Gulf, Schwarzkopf saluted his troops and departed from Riyadh Air Base, saying his mission was completed despite personal disappointment that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains in power and dismay over the “tragic” plight of refugees who have poured from Iraq.

“There’s no question in my mind that we completed our mission,” Schwarzkopf, 56, said.

With Schwarzkopf gone, the U.S. Central Command in Riyadh, headquarters for a swift and devastating allied rout that ejected Iraqi troops from Kuwait, closed down after 258 days of operation. American GIs are being dispatched home daily; about 260,000 remained in the region Saturday, down from a wartime high of 542,000.

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The four-star general is expected to arrive at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., this morning. With his newfound fame, Schwarzkopf is in position to pursue book deals or speaking engagements, but he said Saturday that his current plans do not include running for public office.

At a formal ceremony before his departure, the commander of Operation Desert Storm exchanged prestigious medals and effusive words of praise and thanks with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, leader of the joint Arab forces in the war.

In the Arab tradition, the two men embraced after a visibly moved Schwarzkopf became the first non-Saudi to receive the silver Order of King Abdulaziz, named for the founder of Saudi Arabia.

“There are two people to whom I make this presentation: to Gen. Schwarzkopf, the remarkable general and commander; and to Norm Schwarzkopf, my friend,” Khalid said.

Despite the pomp and circumstance, Schwarzkopf has seen what appeared to be a clear-cut, decisive victory over Hussein tarnished by a distressing postwar refugee problem. The Iraqi leader continued to wield enough military might to crush Kurdish and Shiite rebellions, sending more than 2 million refugees into flight in northern and southern Iraq and, now, pulling American troops into the new, formidable task of caring for the displaced persons.

Schwarzkopf, in a news conference before leaving the Saudi capital, sought to dispel the idea that if he had fought longer, things would be different.

“The Kurds’ situation is a tragic one,” he said. “All of us, our hearts cry out to the Kurdish people. (But) I don’t think that we should ever say that because of what’s happening to the Kurds now means that our mission has failed.”

A man who never shied from speaking his mind--whatever the political consequences--Schwarzkopf recently became embroiled in controversy when he seemed to disagree publicly with President Bush’s decision to end the war on Feb. 28.

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The general later apologized, said he had chosen his words poorly and that he in fact concurred “100%" with the President’s order. Nevertheless, the flap has fueled debate over whether, indeed, the war ended prematurely.

“Somehow, people have tried to make a linkage between that decision (to end the war) and what is happening to the Kurds,” Schwarzkopf said Saturday. “There is no linkage. . . .

“To somehow imply that because we did not continue for one more day of the attack, that the rebellion did not succeed, is bogus,” he insisted. “That dog just flat won’t run.”

While he conceded that the Kurds undoubtedly seized the opportunity of Iraq’s defeat by the allies to press their rebellion, he stressed that the Kurds’ fight is an ancient struggle.

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“You need to go back and study your history,” he brusquely told a reporter. “The rebellion that occurs in Iraq started long, long, long before this occurrence.”

Schwarzkopf pledged that in southern Iraq, where thousands of refugees are also seeking protection, American forces will remain “as long as we think that the refugees are in danger.”

Having fled fighting between Shiite rebels and Iraqi government forces, refugees fearing reprisals have crowded into what has become a demilitarized zone on the Iraq-Kuwait border. About 18,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in the zone until a U.N. peacekeeping force is in place, a development expected to take weeks.

For many Americans, the disturbing aftermath of the war is not likely to detract from their admiration for Schwarzkopf, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who is credited with masterminding the Gulf ground war strategy that destroyed the enemy with lightning speed.

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After about five weeks of heavy air strikes that may have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, Schwarzkopf launched what many experts consider to be a masterful plan: He tricked the Iraqis into guarding against an amphibious landing on the shores of Kuwait while secretly sending large numbers of troops west and then deep into Iraqi territory to outflank and surround Hussein’s touted Republican Guard.

The ground war ended 100 hours after it began. Allied casualties were remarkably low.

Nicknamed “the Bear” and “Stormin’ Norman,” Schwarzkopf also gained a reputation for a sharp- tongued, acerbic bluntness. It showed especially when he was jousting with the press.

Again Saturday, a reporter persisted in a line of questioning about the plight of the Kurds and whether U.S. actions were responsible, and Schwarzkopf counterpunched.

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“We could wrestle up here (on the stage) if you’d like to do that, too,” Schwarzkopf snapped. “I’m not going to argue with you.”

The audience, consisting mostly of military officers who had attended the earlier awards ceremony, laughed heartily and broke into applause.

Schwarzkopf spent almost eight full months in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, coming here a few weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. While eager to get home to his wife and three children, he said, leaving was also difficult.

“You don’t leave a country you’ve lived eight months of your life in without some regrets,” he said. ". . . I also feel I’m leaving a country behind. I shall truly miss Saudi Arabia, the friends I have made here, the warmth and hospitality I’ve received.”

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After Saturday’s awards ceremony and press conference at the Saudi Arabian Defense Ministry, Schwarzkopf was whisked to the air base, where he passed through a Saudi honor guard. Dressed in his characteristic desert fatigues, he saluted and shook the hands of dozens of American and Saudi military officers and then boarded an Air Force jet.


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