RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, said yesterday in an interview that any gulf war would be an all-out battle that could last six months or more.
"It won't be an easy fight," said General Schwarzkopf, who was deputy commander of the Grenada invasion in 1983. "If we have to fight the Iraqis, there's a lot of them. I think they will fight, and I think it's going to be a tough fight."
U.S. air and sea superiority are offset on land by the Iraqis' greatest strength: the sheer numbers of troops in a war that analysts predict could become the largest tank battle in history.
Iraqi reinforcements are continually being sent into Kuwait and southern Iraq, positioning for a defensive land battle, General Schwarzkopf said. But he dismissed specific numbers that have been cited in recent weeks, saying that they reflect more a reassessment of military intelligence on troop strength than any large buildup.
If war comes, the fate of 430,000 U.S. troops will be in the hands of this officer, who inspires worship from his staff and who counts Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman among his heroes.
Just a month before the United Nations deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal, General Schwarzkopf has little patience for armchair generals who predict either a quick rout or extraordinary casualties.
"If they're so smart, they'd be in a uniform making the decisions," he has been heard to grumble.
Declaring, "I won't hold anything back" if it comes to war, General Schwarzkopf said that a massive drive against the Iraqis could help hold down allied casualties.
Paraphrasing Gen. George S. Patton during World War II, General Schwarzkopf said: "The harder that you drive on, the quicker the war will come to its end and the lesser your casualties should be. That certainly should be your objective."
The thousands of letters to soldiers every day convince him that the public backs Desert Shield: "They generally start out saying: 'I just want to let you know that I support what you're doing over there, and so does everybody else. Don't worry about those few people you see in the demonstrations. We're behind you.'
"I have great faith in the American public, and I just think that they know that it is criminal to ask the young men and women of the armed forces to go into battle without their support."