U.S. braces for a long fight IRAQ'S REMAINING CAPABILITY WORRIES CHENEY Scud missiles chief U.S. target, Gen. Powell says War in the Gulf

January 24, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun Charles W. Corddry of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

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."

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