Even if Saddam Hussein were to withdraw from Kuwait tomorrow, an unlikely scenario, U.S. troops would occupy Kuwait for months and perhaps up to a year to police the retreat, retired military officials and analysts say.
Hopes for a quick return of America's 520,000 troops in the gulf are elusive, a gloomy outlook for anxious families stateside."Our troops won't move until all the Iraqi forces, including their armor, are back into Iraq," retired Army Maj. Gen. J. Milnor Roberts said.
Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that could take months, even up to a year if the Iraqis leave behind their vast fields of land and sea mines.
"They're going to have a massive logistic problem just gathering up their debris," said retired Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll of the Center for Defense Information. "There's lots of garbage out there."
Iraq's 540,000 troops in the Kuwaiti theater have planted several million mines and are said to have stockpiles of at least 1,000 tons of chemical warfare munitions along with thousands of tanks and artillery guns.
The U.S.-led coalition must also be sure that a withdrawal, once it begins, is the real thing.
"We need some commitment that they will continue north, that they won't just camp on the border," Carroll said.
Any pullout must be led by Saddam's military vanguard, the Republican Guards, said Richard F. Staar, former U.S. negotiator on troop reductions in Europe and now a Hoover Institution scholar.
"If he brings back cannon fodder, that doesn't mean anything," Staar said, referring to Iraq's young and poorly trained troops on the Kuwaiti front line.
Staar said a continued military presence, preferably U.N. rather than American, will be needed in Iraq as well as Kuwait because "if that guy still remains in power, I'm sure he's going to continue trying to rebuild his military assets."
He said the international community will have to "retain some kind of a trip wire there" to respond to any new aggression from a surviving Saddam.
If he is overthrown or killed, an international force, including some Americans, might still be needed to keep Iraq from slipping into chaos.
Analysts stressed that any semipermanent monitoring force, whether in Iraq or Kuwait, should consist mainly of troops from Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey or neutral countries such as Sweden. "The community out there is very uneasy with this Goliath sustaining a presence after these hostilities are over," Carroll said.
But one Pentagon military official said two years might be needed to clear out the vast amount of U.S. equipment funneled into the Persian Gulf pipeline since the crisis broke out last August.