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."