RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Driving tanks and other armored vehicles, parachuting in and landing in helicopters, troops of a U.S.-led invasion force were reported yesterday to have pushed all the way to the outskirts of Kuwait City in the first day of a ground campaign the allied commander heralded as a "dramatic success."
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition, said forces invading Kuwait and Iraq simultaneously at numerous points encountered little opposition and rapidly gained territory. He described the number of casualties among the more than 525,000 U.S. troops as "extremely light." No figures were given.
Allied forces reached their objectives for the first day within 10 hours of the start of the campaign, he said.
"So far the offensive is progressing with dramatic success," General Schwarzkopf said at a briefing. "The troops are doing a great job. But I would not be honest with you if I didn't remind you that this is the very early stages."
[Iraq's Republican Guards gave their first sign of life early today, the Associated Press reported. About 80 tanks from the elite force, rousted from their positions by attacks deep inside Iraq, rumbled south toward advancing coalition forces, pilots flying over the battlefield said.
["They're finally flushing," said Lt. Col. Steve Turner, an F-15E fighter-bomber squadron commander. "They've got to do something -- either that, or get killed in their holes."]
More than 5,500 Iraqi soldiers surrendered and were taken prisoner, the general said, while there were reports "of many hundreds more north of our positions with white surrender flags." Later reports raised the figure to over 10,000.
For U.S. forces, the invasion was the largest single ground operation since World War II. They were joined by troops, armor, aircraft and ships from 12 other countries.
By last night, separate columns of coalition forces were reported to be on the outskirts of Kuwait City (about 40 miles from the nearest Saudi border) and to be traveling rapidly through southern Iraq in arcs to the north and in the direction of the Iraqi city of Basra.
None of the sketchy details about allied troop movements was confirmed by the U.S. military command, which maintained a news blackout ordered by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Information came instead from allied armies, from anonymous sources cited by the Kuwait News Agency, representing Kuwait's government-in-exile, and reporters in the field with coalition forces.
The picture that emerged was of an operation whose size and apparent speed were intended to present the Iraqi leadership with threats on a large number of fronts and leave it uncertain how and where to respond.
A substantial part of the invasion force entered Iraq, while other columns pushed through southern Kuwait. Other forces parachuted behind Iraqi lines inside Kuwait. Kuwait's news agency described the skies of Kuwait City as "full of parachuting airborne troops."
In Iraq, President Saddam Hussein broadcast a radio message condemning the United States for "treachery" and urging his soldiers to "show no mercy."
A later military communique maintained that Iraqi troops were in "a very good situation," and declared that many allied tanks had been destroyed.
The invasion force began pushing en masse into Iraqi-held territory at 4 a.m. yesterday (8 p.m. Saturday EST), eight hours after Mr. Hussein let pass a U.S. deadline for Iraq to begin withdrawing from Kuwait. The land campaign began after 39 days of almost around-the-clock air strikes, with pilots flying more than 95,000 sorties.
Even though the number of clashes was relatively small, reports showed clearly that the campaign included enormous violence. Videos from gun cameras aboard Army Apache helicopters showed Iraqi soldiers being blown to bits by exploding cannon shells as the pilots, wearing night-vision goggles, attacked Iraqi bunkers.
"You always envision some scenario [of] how combat will be," Chief Warrant Officer Ron Balak, an Apache pilot, told a reporter with the Army 18th Airborne Corps. "But I just didn't quite envision going up there and shooting the hell out of everything in the dark and have them not know what the hell hit them."
For the first day of the land battle, General Schwarzkopf was the only authoritative source of information about what was happening on the battlefield as a whole. He and other Pentagon officials, canceling all regular briefings in Riyadh and at the Pentagon, insisted on a news blackout, saying it was needed to deny Iraq information about the actions and intentions of allied forces.
General Schwarzkopf identified three main assaults, one beginning at 4 a.m., the second several hours later and the third in early afternoon. Arab forces participated in all three, as did forces from Britain and France.
After the initial land thrust, the second attack involved Marines, Army paratroopers and Army air assault units and Army special forces, some of them entering Kuwait wearing protective clothing against the danger of chemical weapon attacks. The afternoon assault included Army tanks and mechanized units.
At the same time, aircraft from nine nations carried out "surge operations," flying the maximum possible number of strikes against targets in and around Kuwait. Well-informed officers said air operations were hampered by scattered rain as well as by smoke from hundreds of oil wells burning throughout Kuwait, well-heads Iraq had set alight in recent days.
The only significant opposition came when an Iraqi tank force attacked an advancing column of Marines, the general said. The Marines responded with artillery and anti-tank weapons and called in air strikes, reportedly forcing the Iraqis to retreat with the loss of several tanks.
A Marine commander told pool reporters that his unit encountered chemical land mines when specially equipped vehicles moved in front of troops to clear paths through minefields. General Schwarzkopf, however, said reports of chemical weapons were "bogus."
Marine Maj. Gen. William Keys, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, told reporters that small amounts of chemical gas were released during the minefield operation, apparently without causing any casualties.
One sign of the coalition's apparent early success was the empty British field hospital outside Hafer al Batin, the Saudi crossroads about 50 miles south of Saudi Arabia's border with Iraq and Kuwait. Surgeons stood by dozens of tents ready to receive the wounded, but after 10 hours of battle, the only patients were several Iraqi prisoners.
Far busier were the nearby highways and desert tracks that form part of the allies' vast supply network.
Overhead, transport planes and helicopters flew within 100 yards of the ground, heading back and forth in supply missions.