WASHINGTON -- The Persian Gulf war moved into its second week yesterday, with U.S. officials declaring that the allied operation has "gone very well" but cautioning that the fighting could last a long time.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warned that unpleasant surprises lay ahead for the United States and its coalition partners, including possible terrorist attacks or chemical warfare.
"No one should assume that Saddam Hussein does not have significant remaining military capability," he said at an hourlong Pentagon briefing designed to answer criticism that the military has not provided enough news about the war.
Iraq's Scud missile threat remains "the most significant problem we have right now," said Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He would not predict how many Scud launchers remained at large.
"When you think of what Saddam Hussein has done for the past week, he has not thrown a single military punch back at us," General Powell said. "What he has done is use this weapon of terror, the Scuds . . . to go after cities."
The Scud attacks, which continued yesterday as U.S. Patriot missiles shot down at least two over Saudi Arabia and one over Israel, pose a political threat to Arab participation in the allied forces, he noted. Iraq's goal is to provoke an Israeli response, which could lead Syria and other Arab nations to withdraw their cooperation.
Other military officials have sought to play down the military importance of the Scud over the past week. But General Powell acknowledged that coalition forces have been forced to redirect "a significant part of our capability" to the continuing search for Scud launchers.
Again yesterday, U.S. officials refused to be pinned down on the question of how long the war might last. Some military analysts continue to forecast a war that will end in a matter of weeks, rather than months.
But General Powell, saying that a major goal was to avoid heavy casualties, said, "We are in no hurry."
Mr. Cheney said that "over the course of the next several days and weeks," allied forces would continue to bomb military targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait. But he declined to go further. U.S. commanders have said that the air campaign probably would continue into February before a large-scale ground offensive begins.
While predicting that Mr. Hussein would "use any means at his disposal to break up the coalition and avoid defeat," Mr. Cheney was resolute in predicting that the Iraqi leader would ultimately lose.
"He cannot change the basic course of the conflict," he said. "He will be defeated."
The assessment by the Pentagon's top military and civilian leaders followed growing criticism from the news media and some members of Congress about the reluctance of allied commanders to provide details on the progress of the bombing or updated assessments of Iraq's intentions.
Sen. John W. Warner, the senior Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a group of reporters that he had no idea why Mr. Hussein had failed to respond militarily.
"I don't know, and I'm not sure anybody else does," said the Virginia senator, who has been receiving top-level briefings on the gulf situation since August, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
He said he could recall no scenario, in pre-attack briefings, in which Mr. Hussein hunkered down as he has thus far.
Mr. Warner said he had also never heard an estimate on the duration of the conflict from either President Bush or defense chiefs.
Administration officials indicated that yesterday's briefing was part of a continuing public relations effort to lower expectations of a quick victory and counter other impressions the public may have gathered.
General Powell called it "an attempt to dampen out the oscillations between euphoria and distress that sometimes [catch] us up every hour on the hour."
Heavy bombing in recent days by U.S. B-52s is damaging the Iraqi army, including highly trained Republican Guard troops in southern Iraq, the Pentagon said.
"We know we're hurting it," General Powell said of the Republican Guard. "We really don't know how badly we've hurt it until it starts to move . . . but we really have only begun to do the job on it."
Some units have suffered 40 percent damage, while others were only lightly hit, he said.
Allied forces are now moving "in earnest," General Powell said, on the half-million-strong Iraqi army, spread out and dug in along a 180-mile front in southern Iraq and Kuwait. He said that U.S. forces were also bombing the Iraqi army's field stockpiles of ammunition and food, as well as its anti-aircraft batteries.
General Powell described the Iraqi forces, some 550,000 in number, as heavily armed, well-stocked and in close touch with one another through well-protected communications links, reportedly buried telephone lines.
"Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple," he said. "First, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it."
He would not say whether a ground offensive, with potentially heavy casualties, would be necessary to dislodge the Iraqi troops, as many military analysts predict.
"We are assembling a fairly sizable ground force that can finish off the job, should that be necessary," General Powell said.
"I'm not telegraphing anything. I just want everybody to know that we have a tool box that's full of lots of tools, and I brought them all to the party."
Iraq's two nuclear reactors have been destroyed, the Pentagon confirmed. There has also been "considerable damage" to chemical and biological weapons factories, which continue to be targeted. Also under attack are munitions plants, conventional weapons factories and military spare parts plants.
Since the war began, allied intelligence has detected no movement of Iraqi army units.
But dislodging the heavily fortified Iraqi armored divisions will be "a much more difficult proposition" than the pinpoint bombing of buildings and factories of the past week, General Powell acknowledged.
At the same time, however, Iraq's army remains vulnerable to having its supply lines severed.
"We are going to do everything we can to make sure that army cannot be reinforced with new troops. And over time they will have increasing difficulty to resupply it," General Powell said.
There have been scattered reports of low morale and defections among the Iraqi ground forces, he said, "but it is not a trend yet."
To date, 29 prisoners have been captured, including six taken late Tuesday near the Saudi-Iraqi border in what was described as the first ground combat of the war.
The U.S. command reported that two U.S. soldiers were lightly wounded after coming under small-arms fire. The armored cavalrymen returned fire and took six prisoners. No information was given on Iraqi casualties.
In the Persian Gulf itself, U.S. carrier-borne strike aircraft badly damaged an Iraqi tanker and destroyed three armed hovercraft, Navy spokesmen said.
General Powell appeared to go out of his way to caution Americans on the military strength of Iraq, which is reputed to have the world's fourth- or fifth-largest army.
"We're dealing with an enemy that is resourceful, an enemy that knows how to work around problems, an enemy that is ingenious," he said.
General Powell confirmed that the allied operation had been slowed by bad weather, which moved in on the third day and was both more severe and prolonged than had been expected. Planned bombing runs could not be completed, and bomb damage assessment was hampered as a result, he said.
Despite the new details offered yesterday by the Pentagon, there was still no overall information on the damage caused by the around-the-clock bombing. No aerial or satellite reconnaissance photos of bombed targets were released. Instead, a few drawings that showed few details were produced.
General Powell said the bombing missions were going "about" as expected and praised what he called the "very low loss rate" so far in the operation. To date, 16 allied aircraft have been reported down.
Officials said, however, that one of the 10 U.S. planes downed in the opening days of the conflict may have been shot down by an Iraqi jet. Nine others were downed by ground artillery, surface-to-air missiles or possible mechanical problems, the /^ Pentagon said.
He said 41 Iraqi jets have been lost, leaving Iraq with more than 750 fighter-bombers and interceptors. General Powell spoke of Iraq's "latent capability" to use its air force against the U.S. coalition, "if they can ever get their act together."
Officials said that only five of 66 Iraqi airfields were active in the past 24 hours, including the international airport in Baghdad.
Reviewing the initial week of the campaign, General Powell said that allied forces had successfully gone after "the nerve center, the brains" of the Iraqi military -- its command centers in Baghdad and the communications links to units in the field, as well as convoys of trucks shuttling supplies down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to troops in southern Iraq and Kuwait.
The main threat now to allied fliers is Iraq's arsenal of anti-aircraft guns, he said, including 20,000 in the Baghdad area alone.
An Iraqi navy Silkworm missile site has been destroyed, along with several patrol boats and 24 mines found floating in the Persian Gulf, he disclosed.