American pilots patrolling over Iraq have been told not to shoot down helicopters unless they approach allied forces, U.S. commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf said Saturday.

He said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces were making extensive use of helicopters in their struggle to suppress post-Gulf War revolts. In his remarks to reporters, Schwarzkopf indicated that the orders to U.S. pilots might change."The armed helicopters are not going to be a threat, plain and simple," he said.

"We've made it very clear to them (Iraq) that the helicopters will not fly toward, over or near our forces and they won't - not for long."

Pressed on whether Iraqi helicopters were safe unless they approached the allies, Schwarzkopf replied:

"I can't say that. I would say that at the present time my instructions are not to take any action against armed helicopters."

Revolt in Iraq is now strongest in the Kurdish north, hundreds of miles from the allied cease-fire line in southern Iraq.

Under a provisional cease-fire, the victorious allies banned all flights by Iraq's fixed-wing aircraft. U.S. pilots shot down two SU-22 fighters caught in the air this week.

The rules for helicopters are more complex, but Washington has refused to say exactly what they are.

The allies have told the Iraqi government not to use helicopters in combat. But military sources say troop movements in unarmed helicopters were allowed.

Schwarzkopf spoke to reporters after presenting Britain's gulf war commander, Lt. Gen. Peter de la Billiere, with the Legion of Merit on behalf of President Bush.

He said Iraq's use of armed helicopters decreased "dramatically" after talks between allied and Iraqi commanders last Sunday at the Iraqi town of Safwan. The helicopters were mainly being used to move troops in areas where fighting raged.

Schwarzkopf said no new U.S. combat troops would be sent to the area in the coming weeks and those that remained - about 440,000 - would go home as quickly as possible.

"We might have to bring some logistic folks. It's going to take a long time to get all this equipment out of here. But there's not going to be any rotation of combat forces," he said.