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Troop Cutbacks for Haiti, Gulf Reportedly Set


WASHINGTON — U.S. military troops in Haiti and the Persian Gulf region will begin returning home next month under a two-pronged phaseout hammered out over the weekend by President Clinton and his top national security advisers, sources said here Sunday.

The troop withdrawal decisions, approved by the President, call for 6,000 of the Army troops and U.S. Marines in Haiti to be on their way home by Dec. 1, and for "virtually all" of the almost 8,000 infantry soldiers to leave Kuwait by Dec. 22.

Sources said the decision to withdraw the troops was recommended Saturday in Washington by Clinton's top national security aides--Secretary of State Warren Christopher; Defense Secretary William J. Perry; Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Anthony Lake, the President's national security adviser. Clinton himself signed off on the decision Sunday while campaigning for Democratic candidates in California.

U.S. officials said the decision to withdraw the troops, although likely to prove politically popular, was not timed to coincide with the final days of campaigning for Tuesday's midterm congressional elections. In fact, the decision was not announced publicly, but many news organizations were told about it on Sunday.

Although the White House did not make any official announcement on the decisions, senior Adminstration officials in the Pentagon and on the National Security Council confirmed the troop withdrawals in separate interviews Sunday night.

In Haiti, the troop strength will be dropped to 9,000 from its present level of 15,000. Those pulling out will include military police personnel, some training battalions who will be replaced by members of the U.N. multinational forces, and logistic troops who have been handling many of the government's internal security matters until a new Haitian police force is established.

"We'll have just a hair under 9,000 ground troops left there," one defense official said. "Our troops there have been running much of the country's security and now we'll be turning this over to the civilians in Haiti."

He added that Lake, in a recent trip to Haiti where he met several times with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, concluded that conditions had stabilized enough in the Caribbean island to handle the troop withdrawals.

In the Gulf region, where the U.S. began dispatching troops last month to counter a sudden move by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein toward the Kuwaiti border, almost all of the 7,800 soldiers and Marines still there will be brought home by Dec. 22.

"I can't tell you that every one of the ground troops will be gone, but that's going to be the goal," an Administration official said. "We'll be taking out virtually all of them.

"The plan has always been to draw down the troops as they completed their mission there, and we've never wanted to leave people there any longer than we had to."

He said that part of the reason to begin moving troops out of Kuwait was the fact that Hussein has withdrawn his elite Republican Guard units from the Kuwaiti border area, a signal that the crisis there was over.

Nevertheless, even with the ground troops leaving, U.S. military officials will continue to keep a high number of warplanes in the area to enforce the "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq and help prevent similar crises from occurring in the future.

There were about 77 U.S. aircraft in the region before the Republican Guard threatened Kuwait last month, and while the United States at first moved up to 270 planes to the area, they will continue to base about 120 warplanes there.

As for ground troops in Kuwait, one defense official said that "the idea was never to leave them there forever."

He also noted that Clinton, in a recent visit with U.S. troops in the Gulf region, hinted that he would try to get them home by Christmas. That gesture, while boosting morale among soldiers in Kuwait, displeased many of those in Haiti.

Many soldiers in the Haitian contingents noted that they had been there twice as long as the soldiers sent to Kuwait, and that Clinton not only had not visited them in the Caribbean since their arrival there in September, but that the President also had not said when they might be coming home.

It remained unclear when the remaining troops in Haiti might be withdrawn.

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