U.S. officers grow confident about attack Cheney convinced of 'major inroads' WAR IN THE GULF


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- After consulting with the U.S. commander of forces in the Persian Gulf, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said today that the bombing campaign against Iraq was going "extremely well" but predicted that "other elements," including ground forces, would almost certainly be added.

"We believe the the campaign has gone extremely well to date," Mr. Cheney said. "The allies and coalition forces have been successful in striking most of the strategic targets that have been identified inside Iraq.

But he indicated that at least limited use of ground forces was virtually inevitable. "At some point we would expect to bring other elements of our forces to bear," Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Cheney spoke after he and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent more than nine hours conferring with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander in the gulf, to review the results of 24 days of intensive bombing target against Iraq and its army in Kuwait.

Mr. Dick Cheney told reporters that he was "struck by the enormous size of the Iraqi military establishment. This clearly was a major force designed for military combat. I'm convinced we in fact have made major inroads in destroying that capability."

Mr. Cheney and General Powell were scheduled to meet later today with a Stealth F-117A fighter bomber unit before returning to Washington.

The Defense Department's civilian chief and its top officer are scheduled to see President Bush in Washington tomorrow, when they will presumably discuss the details presented by General Schwarzkopf about the results of 25 days of intensive bombing targeted against Iraq.

"There was a wealth of information we wanted to provide," said Marine Brig. Gen. Richard Neal. "They've been in the receiving mode." Briefings were held in General Schwarzkopf's war room, where aides and division commanders discussed "what has gone on before, where we are, where we're going."

Mr. Cheney has indicated that the ground war might begin with a series of quick, tactical movements -- by land or sea or both -- against Iraqi positions rather than a massive invasion, with the goal of drawing Iraqi forces into the open, where they could be struck by allied aircraft.

If not euphoric, senior officers sounded unusually confident in briefings with reporters yesterday. Officers offered their most detailed comments to date about the destruction of Iraqi equipment and insisted that bombing raids were also having their intended effect on morale among Iraqi troops.

According to General Neal, teams studying bomb damage confirmed the destruction of 750 of Iraq's estimated 4,000 tanks, of at least 650 artillery pieces out of 3,200, and of more than 600 armored personnel carriers out of an estimated 4,000.

"That's destroyed confirmed," General Neal said. "Unless we see it belly-up or something like that, we're not going to count it." While no figures were provided, other vehicles and artillery pieces have presumably been damaged.

Military officials have resisted discussing whether entire tank or artillery units have been broken up, or whether the affected equipment is more widely scattered. But they said many of the losses were in units of the Republican Guards, Iraq's best-trained force and the heart of its defensive positions inside Kuwait.

"We have focused a lot of our energies on the Republican Guards, so you can probably surmise a lot of tanks are Republican Guard tanks," a senior officer said.

"We have really hammered the hell out of them."

The greatest optimism appeared to be reserved for the issue of Iraqi deserters. U.S., British and Saudi officers report that small but steadily increasing numbers of Iraqi soldiers are crossing into Saudi Arabia to surrender and that the deserters say other soldiers are deserting by heading north into Iraq.

Spokesmen said seven Iraqis surrendered yesterday to Saudi forces, including a lieutenant colonel, the highest-ranking officer desert so far; 11 to Egyptian forces, and 11 others to U.S. troops.

Exactly how many soldiers are leaving their units and heading north is impossible to establish. Allied officers say that, based on comments by POWs, Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait are uncertain how far they are from the Saudi border and are afraid of the Western armies, and so choose to head north in hopes of returning to their families.

"They're taking huge risks; they are very frightened," an allied officer said.

The POWs also report that many soldiers have been badly shaken by the bombing campaign. "It seems very significant from the intelligence folks that there was a lot of chatter, a lot of dialogue about folks who had already left and gone home," a second officer said of the captured Iraqis.

"It's been three weeks for these guys with only metal raining down on their heads."

General Neal said, "All of them to a man talk endlessly about the bombing, the endless bombing."

Some commanders caution that the Iraqi army remains strong. On Thursday, the commander of British forces in the gulf, Lt. Gen. Peter de la Billiere, said he saw no evidence that the Iraqi army was about to collapse, while other officers note that few if any of the deserters belong to the Republican Guards.

British and Egyptian officials, meanwhile, took steps to reassure the Arab world that the war did not aim to change Iraq's boundaries or even to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

After meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd maintained that the U.S.-led coalition sought only to liberate Kuwait. "We are not seeking to alter the boundaries of Iraq; that would not be acceptable," he said. "We are not seeking to dictate who should be the government of Iraq. That is for the Iraqis."

British Prime Minister John Major told the British Broadcasting Corp., however, that he would be happy if the Iraqi people themselves toppled Mr. Hussein.

"It would be extremely agreeable if they did, most certainly," Mr. Major said.

Coalition commanders make no secret of their hope that by decimating Iraq's army, and especially units of the Republican Guards, the coalition will bring about Mr. Hussein's fall.

On the diplomatic front yesterday, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev announced he was sending a personal envoy to Iraq to meet with Mr. Hussein and publicly appealed to the Iraqi president to "once again weigh up everything . . . and show realism, which would permit us to get on the path toward a stable, fair and peaceful settlement."

He also warned the United States and its coalition partners that "the logic of the military operations, the character of the military actions, is creating a threat of going beyond the limits of the [U.N.] mandate," according to a statement carried by Tass.

Iraq sent its deputy prime minister to Iran with a written response to Iranian proposals for ending the war. Both the Iranian plan and Iraq's response remain secret.

At the same time, Iraq's charge d'affaires in Washington formally notified the State Department that his government was severing diplomatic relations with the United States. A statement by the department said that Iraq was "considering possible arrangements for protection of Iraqi interests in the U.S. and for communication with the U.S."

Meanwhile, the air war over Iraq and Kuwait continued, with U.S. and coalition aircraft flying 2,400 missions.

Early yesterday, aircraft arrived over a Scud missile site in western Iraq in time to see the flight of the missile that later struck Israel, but they were unable to stop it.

"We're real close, and boom, it goes through the clouds," a military spokesman said. Pilots reported destroying a launcher where a second Scud was being readied for firing.

As the war costs mounted, the Kuwaiti government-in-exile in Taif, Saudi Arabia, promised Britain $1.3 billion toward the cost of driving Iraq out of Kuwait, a British government statement said yesterday.

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