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Clinton gives boost to force in Kuwait

President Clinton won cheers from American troops in Kuwait in the time-honored fashion Friday: by increasing their pay and suggesting strongly that they would be home for Christmas.

Most of Clinton's speech _ a recitation of the importance of their mission and of U.S. attempts to contain Iraq _ drew polite applause from the several hundred American troops gathered along with British, Kuwaiti and other Arab soldiers in the dust of the Kuwaiti desert.

But when Clinton finished speaking, soldiers calling "When do we go home?" drew him back to the podium. Smiling, he looked out at the crowd and said, "Don't forget to go Christmas shopping," drawing loud and raucous cheers.

Military officials, including Defense Secretary William Perry, had already said that most, perhaps all, of the U.S. combat troops recently sent to the Persian Gulf will be home for the holidays, assuming that Iraq refrains from any hostile moves in the meantime, although new units may be sent to replace those now here. That word, however, had not yet filtered down to the ranks.

Clinton drew a loud ovation by announcing he had signed an executive order that will mean roughly $300 per month extra for enlisted personnel deployed on combat missions such as the one here.

Clinton's speech to the troops in Kuwait was the final public event of a Middle East tour. After brief visits with the emir of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, the president headed for home and is expected to return to Washington early this morning.