WASHINGTON -- Iraq sharply stepped up its missile assault on allied forces in Saudi Arabia yesterday, but most, if not all, of the 10 projectiles were knocked down by anti-missile rockets, U.S. spokesmen said.
U.S. forces claimed that thousands of bombing runs had seriously disrupted Iraq's air defense, command and supply lines, even as bad weather forced a curtailment of some offensive operations yesterday.
Meanwhile, the State Department accused Iraq of "apparent mistreatment" of the first Americans taken as prisoners of war and reminded the captors that that would be a "war crime."
A group of seven men in uniform, three identifying themselves as Americans, made strongly pro-Iraq propaganda statements and gave far more military information than POWs would be expected to give unless coerced.
The United States now holds 23 Iraqis prisoner, U.S. military sources said.
The war, entering its fifth day, went on as it has from the beginning -- confined largely to the skies above Iraq and Kuwait and with no sign that the massed armies facing each other across the Kuwait border would soon start a ground battle.
Although it has been common to speculate that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was counting on ground warfare as his strongest option in the war, the allied commander, U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, defiantly insisted that would not be to Iraq's advantage.
"When and if we have to fight a ground war," the general said in an interview on CBS-TV, "I am not going to fight his war. He's going to fight our war."
The general, asked on NBC-TV if the allies could win the war solely in the air, said that was "entirely conceivable," but he refused to rule out an ultimate fight on the ground, too.
He made it clear that driving Iraqi forces out of dug-in positions in occupied Kuwait could be difficult and costly. "There are probably some of the most formidable defenses that you could ever run into anywhere," he said in a separate interview on ABC-TV.
"I certainly don't intend to throw American troops or have the coalition throw their troops against these barriers," he added. He said the allies would seek to weaken the ground defenses by a variety of means, including "carpet bombing" by B-52 aircraft.
The general also said it would not make sense to send ground troops into Iraq itself as a final measure to try to eradicate the remaining Scud missiles. Iraq has sent Scud missiles against both Israel and Saudi Arabia, with 10 aimed at Saudi Arabia yesterday. Air power is being used primarily to wipe out any remaining fixed-site Scud launchers as well as the more troublesome and elusive mobile launchers.
"There's not much point putting people on the ground to try and find maybe 10 trucks, or five trucks," the general said on CBS. "That's not the way you do this."
The air war grew more costly for allied forces, with three more U.S. planes shot down in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to eight. So far, 13 Americans have been killed or are listed as missing in action. Other allied forces have reported nine people dead or missing.
General Schwarzkopf said in a CNN interview he had been "astounded, delighted, very thankful" by the low casualty rate so far. The total, he said, is "almost unbelievably low."
He said the allied bombing, which has surpassed 7,000 separate runs over four days, would not be likely to stop "any time in the near future."
But thick clouds over Iraq yesterday caused U.S. pilots of 40 fighter-bombers to come back without dropping bombs, as they had planned, on Iraqi tanks, according to wire reports.
General Schwarzkopf claimed that Iraq's air defense was growing random and ineffective, with allied bombers continuing to blast away at its communications links.
"Their air-defense capabilities are very rudimentary right now," he said. "Rather than being in any way directed, what they're doing is just any time airplanes come overhead, they're just shooting everything they can up in the air, hoping to hit something, and that doesn't make for a very effective air defense."
He dared Iraq to send its fighters up to challenge allied pilots, saying, "We're completely ready for them. As a matter of fact, you know, it would make the job a lot simpler." As of now, the general said on CBS, Iraq's air force is "not trying to fight us right now; they're trying to hide from us."
General Schwarzkopf also said that the bombing raids were cutting Iraq's communications links and supply lines with its ground forces. Asked on ABC if electronic channels and supply convoys had been broken, he replied: "I think we've broken both."
The severing of communications links, he said, represented a key military gain, because Iraq's military troops were "very much motivated" by their centralized leadership. "I think when that leadership is no longer available to them, it will seriously affect their motivation, and that is our intention," he said.