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US general who led Desert Storm forces passes away aged 78

WASHINGTON -- Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. general who drove Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1991 as commander of the lightning campaign known as Operation Desert Storm, died Thursday at the age of 78.

Schwarzkopf, an American hero known popularly as “Stormin' Norman,” died in Tampa, where he retired after his last posting as head of U.S. Central Command, which controls operations in the Middle East and South Asia.

“We've lost an American original,” U.S. President Barack Obama said.

“From his decorated service in Vietnam to the historic liberation of Kuwait and his leadership of United States Central Command, General Schwarzkopf stood tall for the country and Army he loved,” he said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Schwarzkopf — a hulking bruiser of a commander with an explosive temper — had in “35 years of service in uniform left an indelible imprint on the United States military and the country.”

Former President George H. W. Bush, himself sick in intensive care in Texas, was among the first to issue a statement mourning the loss of the man he chose to lead the war that came to define both of their careers.

“Barbara and I mourn the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation,” his statement said.

“General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomized the 'duty, service, country' creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises,” Bush said.

“More than that, he was a good and decent man — and a dear friend. Barbara and I send our condolences to his wife Brenda and his wonderful family.”

The New York Times quoted Schwarzkopf's sister as saying he died from complications related to a recent bout with pneumonia.

In a major test of the post-Cold War order, Saddam Hussein's million-man army invaded Kuwait in 1990 and looked set to roll into Saudi Arabia, which would have given him more than 40 percent of the world's oil reserves.

Bush assembled a coalition of 32 nations and Schwarzkopf was given command of 425,000 U.S. and 118,000 allied soldiers, a force which decimated Saddam's military machine and drove it from Kuwait with minimal allied casualties.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1934, Schwarzkopf's connection with the Gulf began when he was just 12 and he went to Iran to join his father, another decorated general, who had been posted there.

Educated in Tehran, Geneva and Frankfurt before returning to the United States to pursue a military career, Schwarzkopf specialized in mechanical engineering at the renowned West Point military college.

He also attended the University of Southern California and the U.S. Army War College.

Schwarzkopf served briefly as an instructor at West Point before heading to Vietnam to join the fast-swelling numbers of U.S. military advisers to the South Vietnamese army.

Quickly promoted up through the ranks, his reputation for bravery was confirmed during his second tour in Vietnam in 1970, when he rescued men from his battalion who were trapped in a minefield in the Batangan Peninsula.

His brusque and bold style was also the stuff of legend.

“When you get on that plane to go home, if the last thing you think about me is 'I hate that son of a bitch,' then that is fine because you're going home alive,” he is reported to have said.

Schwarzkopf's infamous temper spawned the nickname “Stormin' Norman,” which became tabloid headline fodder during the 1991 Gulf War. His troops, however, knew him as “The Bear.”

“He was like a rock star. We all wanted to have our picture taken with him,” wrote Mike Glenn, a Houston Chronicle reporter who served as an Army lieutenant in the Gulf War.

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This 1991 file photo shows Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Schwarzkopf, the U.S. general who drove Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1991 as commander of the lightning campaign ...

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