RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, outspoken architect of the U.S.-led victory in the Persian Gulf war, bade an emotional farewell to Saudi Arabia yesterday and headed home.
Marking the formal end to the U.S. combat role in the Persian Gulf, General Schwarzkopf saluted his troops and departed from Riyadh Air Base, saying that his mission was completed despite personal disappointment that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein rTC remains in power and dismay over the plight of refugees.
"There's no question in my mind that we completed our mission," said General Schwarzkopf, 56.
The U.S. Central Command in Riyadh thus closed down after 258 days of operation. American troops are being dispatched home daily; about 260,000 remained in the region yesterday, down from a wartime high of 540,000.
The four-star general is expected to arrive at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., this morning.
At a formal ceremony before his departure, the commander of Operation Desert Storm exchanged medals with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, leader of the Arab forces during the war. In the Arab tradition, the two men embraced after a visibly moved General 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 General Schwarzkopf, the remarkable general and commander; and to Norm Schwarzkopf, my friend," Prince Khalid said.
Despite the celebrations, General Schwarzkopf has seen what appeared to be a clear-cut, decisive victory over Mr. Hussein tarnished by the postwar refugee problem. The Iraqi leader continued to wield enough military might to crush Kurdish and Shiite rebellions, sending nearly 1.5 million refugees into flight in northern and southern Iraq and, now, pulling U.S. troops into the new task of caring for the displaced people.
General Schwarzkopf, in a news conference before leaving the Saudi capital, sought to dispel the notion that if he had fought longer, the postwar situation in Iraq would have been different.
In the aftermath of the war, the general has been swamped with offers and invitations. He has said he intends to retire this summer after 35 years in the army.
Awaiting him is his pick of million-dollar book contracts, corporate boardrooms and even a political candidacy were he to so choose. But he said yesterday that he has no plans for running for public office.