WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 1991 (UPI) - A week into the coalition war against Iraq, senior U.S. military leaders said Wednesday the air battle had gone well and attention is turning to isolating Iraq's half-million man army in the Kuwaiti theater and efforts to ''cut it off ... to kill it.''
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, in an hour-long briefing detailing the first week of operations of the 28-nation war against Saddam Hussein, also cautioned that the war may not end quickly.
''We believe that it's gone very well,'' said Cheney.
Powell, too, said the campaign had gone about as planned, but noted that cloudy weather retarded the pace of the air attacks and Iraq's use of the Scud missile prompted the reassignment of aircraft to devote more effort to finding and knocking out mobile Scud launchers.
''Notwithstanding these sorts of problems, we're pleased with week one,'' said Powell, noting allied control of the air and the fact that no Iraqi plane has managed an attack on a coalition target.
Powell said that with control of the skies established over Iraq, attention will turn to cutting supply and communication lines between Baghdad and the theater where there are 545,000 Iraqi troops in place, to pounding the 110,000 elite Republican Guards in the hopes they will collapse, and to knocking out battlefield air defenses so troop support planes can safely fly lower in the event of a ground war.
''Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it. To cut it off, that began last week when we started to go after the nerve center, the brains of the operation, the command and control of the operation, and the lines of communication that come out of Baghdad and other places in the country,'' said Powell.
Cheney noted that Saddam has what has been calculated to be the fourth largest army in the world and it could take time to root him out of Kuwait.
''I want to repeat what I told all of you last week at the beginning of this conflict. I urged caution in describing the events in the Persian Gulf, especially in claiming victory too soon. The next day the president expressed his concern about what he called the initial euphoria in some of the early reactions and stories about the operation. I also said that this operation was likely to run for a long period of time,'' said Cheney.
Cheney said that even if Saddam is trying to hunker down and wait, it will not work.
''The reason he will not be successful with a wait-it-out strategy is because as long as he is sitting there waiting we are steadily and progressively destroying his unconventional warfare capability, finding and destroying his Scuds, taking out his air forces and now aggressively working over his ground forces in Kuwait,'' said Cheney.
''I think time is clearly on our side. Given our dominance in the air and our capability to do significant damage to his ground forces each day, each week that goes by he gets weaker and we get stronger,'' he said.
Saddam, said Cheney, ''is a man who will use any means at his disposal to break up the coalition and to avoid defeat. But he cannot change the basic course of the conflict. He will be defeated.''
In a statistical snapshot after a week of war, the two men said:
--19 Iraqi aircraft have been downed in dogfights with allied planes to perhaps one U.S. plane. Another 22 Iraqi planes have been destroyed on the ground. Total allied losses in combat were put at 16 planes, 10 of them U.S. More than 10,000 allied aircraft sorties have been launched.
--Up to 95 percent of Iraq's early warning radar and surface-to-air missile radar has been knocked out, but some of it may be deliberately off the air for protective purposes.
--Of 66 airfields in Iraq, just five have shown flight activity in the past few days.
--Saddam's command and control operations, while still allowing him to communicate with his forces, now rely on generators for power because utilities have been knocked out.
--The Iraqi nuclear facilities have been destroyed and the chemical production plants heavily damaged.
To date, the two said, the United States has carefully targeted military facilities while Saddam's only real military move has been to launch inaccurate Scud missiles against Saudi Arabia and Israel chiefly as a weapon of terror.
In detailing the next phase of the campaign, Powell said that as efforts are made to cut off the forces in the Kuwaiti region from Baghdad, allied forces will also go after ''his stockpiles, ammunition, food; stripping away their air defense, using air attacks. And ... we are assembling a fairly sizeable ground force that can finish off the job should that be necessary.
''I'm not telegraphing anything. I just want everybody to know that we have a toolbox that's full of lots of tools, and I brought them all to the party. Gen. (Norman) Schwarzkopf has them all at the party,'' said Powell.