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U.S. Poised to Halt Further Deployments of Troops if Iraq Completes Withdrawal : Persian Gulf: Orders would leave up to 15,000 forces in the area--about half the number envisioned.


WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration is poised to halt further deployments of American troops to the Persian Gulf later this week, provided Iraqi forces complete their withdrawal and Baghdad does not react militarily to the latest United Nations restrictions on its troops.

The new deployment orders, discussed by President Clinton's national security advisers, would leave the total number of American ground troops in the area at 12,000 to 15,000, instead of the 30,000 envisioned last week by Defense Secretary William J. Perry.

Before deciding, the Administration wants to ensure that the three Iraqi brigades that had spent two days near the town of Nasiriyah, after withdrawing from the area near the Kuwaiti border, have withdrawn all the way to their home bases at Baghdad and Mosul.

The United States also wants to make certain that Iraq has been formally notified of the restrictions on further Iraqi troop movements contained in the resolution that the U.N. Security Council passed late Saturday, as well as possible consequences of any violations.

The latest shift by policy-makers reflects a belief that, with the Iraqi threat now essentially gone, the United States can forestall any new Iraqi troop foray mainly with air power. About 150 American fighters and bombers will be left in the Gulf area indefinitely.

To maintain a credible ground force to defend Kuwait, the United States would have had to deploy almost 30,000 ground troops, a major increase over the 7,300 Army and Marine Corps combat forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Those ground troops now in the region are expected to remain for several more weeks.

But the Pentagon is expected to halt pending deployments of about 20,000 more troops, including the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

The Pentagon also is expected to cut back the size of the planned air armada, possibly by not sending Air Force B-52 bombers and F-117 radar-evading Stealth aircraft.

Dennis L. Boxx, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that deployment of the Marine Expeditionary Force is "still on hold while we look at the intelligence situation and make some final determinations. . . . We would expect to make some decisions . . . very soon."

The Pentagon strategy has been to rely on air strikes to blunt any Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but officials had said earlier that the United States also would pour ground troops--Perry had cited a figure of 30,000--into the area as a defense force.

At one point, Pentagon officials had indicated that, if Iraq continued its push to the Kuwaiti border, the United States might send as many as 155,000 more ground troops. Washington put enough units on alert to carry out that threat.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was one of the first large units placed on alert but the final decision on sending the 18,000 Marines was postponed several times after Iraqi forces appeared ready to withdraw. U.S. officials said that elements of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, Ga., will be deployed as anticipated. About 6,000 soldiers are involved.

Boxx told reporters Tuesday that two of three Iraqi Republican Guard brigades that had halted their withdrawal briefly last week now had pushed north of the 32nd Parallel and were headed toward their home garrisons; the third was loading gear on railroad cars. "The indications, by and large, are positive that they are in fact moving out of that region," he said.

The Security Council resolution calls for Iraq to withdraw its Republican Guard from the border and prohibits Baghdad from using its troops to threaten Kuwait again. The United States has warned that it will attack Iraq if it violates the rules.

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