U.S.-led coalition forces scored ''dramatic success'' in the first day of a lightning ground strike into Kuwait and southern Iraq Sunday, suffering few casualties and meeting light resistance as they rounded up thousands of Iraqi prisoners, allied officials reported.
Backed by air and naval power, the allies began the long-awaited ground campaign at 4 a.m. (8 p.m. EST Saturday), following Iraq's failure to comply with President Bush's ultimatum to withdraw from Kuwait by noon EST Saturday.
Allied troops surged north into Kuwait, west into Iraq and parachuted into Iraqi-held land as part of the giant offensive to eject the Iraqi forces that have been occupying Kuwait since an Aug. 2 invasion.
According to allied military officials on the battlefield, U.S. Marines punctured the first two lines of Iraqi defense and by nightfall had taken up positions west of Kuwait City. And other allied officials said coalition forces had pushed dozens of miles into southern Iraq as part of a plan to encircle Iraqi troops.
For its part, Iraq contended it had foiled the allied assault. In a radio address, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein vowed never to surrender and accused the allies of ''treachery'' for attacking Iraq after Baghdad had agreed to a Soviet plan for a pullout from Kuwait, which Iraq invaded Aug. 2.
The Soviet Union said it believed a chance for peace had been missed, China expressed ''deep regret'' and Iran accused the United States of seeking more than Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait. Allied officials and Israel rallied around the decision to attack.
Bush, who announced the ''final phase'' of the war to liberate Kuwait in a television speech Saturday night, kept a low profile Sunday, avoiding comment and only appearing in public to attend church. The president met Sunday evening with his top national security advisers and heard a report about the overall ground operations against Iraq.
''The president is very pleased,'' said White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater after the 45-minute meeting held in Bush's private study in the family quarters.
''The initial thrust of the operation Sunday is going according to plan and overall has been very successful,'' Fitzwater said.
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. commander of Operation Desert Storm, said, ''So far, we're delighted with the progress of the campaign.''
''The offensive is progressing with dramatic success,'' he said in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. ''The troops are doing a great job, but I would not be honest with you if I didn't remind you this is the very early stages ... and the war is not over yet.''
Schwarzkopf said the campaign included attacks on land, sea and air by forces from the United States, Great Britain, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Syria.
''Ten hours into the ground offensive, more than 5,500 prisoners have been captured, and we received reports of many hundreds more north of our positions with white surrender flags, he said.
A television news pool report showed Saudi troops rounding up Iraqi prisoners, some of whom appeared wounded. A white flag could be seen fluttering on a stick in the background.
Schwarzkopf said allied casualties are ''remarkably light,'' but did not say how many had been wounded or killed.
Cable News Network, quoting Pentagon sources, said 11 Americans were killed during early fighting.
Addressing potential Iraqi threats, Schwarzkopf said Saddam had refrained from using chemical weapons. A later pool report filed by reporters in the field said U.S. Marines encountered some chemical gas, apparently released by buried land mines, but the Iraqi forces appear to be using only conventional munitions in their artillery shells.
Schwarzkopf told reporters that with the exception of an early afternoon clash between a Marine task force and Iraqi armor unit, ''contact with the enemy can best be characterized as light.''
The U.S. commander said there had been ''some'' contact with Saddam's crack Republican Guard, but gave no further details.
''The opposition has been probably been so light because of the excellent job of all of the forces to date have done in preparing the battlefield,'' Schwarzkopf said, adding, ''It's impossible to say how long it's going to take.''
In the one confrontation, he said, Iraqi armor attempted a counterattack against the Marines but retreated after the allies responded with artillery, anti-tank weapons and air strikes, destroying several Iraqi tanks.
Schwarzkopf avoided questions about whether the allied were trying to encircle Iraqi troops or intended to chase Saddam's soldiers back into Iraq.
''We're going to go around, over, through, on top, underneath and any other way it takes to beat them,'' he said. ''We're going to pursue them any other way it takes to beat them.''
U.S. officials refused to say how the more than 700,000 troops of the coalition sent to the gulf after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait had been deployed in the ground assault.
But reports from other allied countries and pool reports cleared by U.S. military censors indicated coalition forces had pushed into southern Iraq as well as Kuwait.
Damage in Kuwait was worsened by what allied officials say has been a deliberate Iraqi effort to leave the country in ruins. Kuwaiti sources in Riyadh said Iraqi troops had blown up the Parliament, ministerial buildings and ''some'' luxury hotels in Kuwait City.
''It looked like what I envision hell would look like,'' said Col. Hal Hornburg, a pilot who had just returned from a mission over Kuwait. ''The country of Kuwait is burning.''
French staff officers in Riyadh said their forces had penetrated more than 35 miles into southern Iraq as part of an encircling movement designed to cut off Iraqi supply lines to Kuwait and attack the Iraq flank. The French reported little opposition and said they had taken 1, 000 Iraqi prisoners.
The British Ministry of Defense also said its 1st Armored Division drove across the Saudi border into Iraq just west of Kuwait under the command of the U.S. Army 7th Corps.
In the largest Marine assault since World War II, tanks, light armored vehicles and infantry of the 2nd Marine Division surged across the Kuwaiti border at dawn Sunday, broke through the first two main lines of Iraqi resistance and by nightfall had taken up positions west of Kuwait City, according to a pool report.
The division drove about 19 miles into Kuwait, cutting six lanes through a double line of defense that included mine fields, berms and trenches.
As many as 20,000 Marines, backed by aircraft and artillery, launched the attack at 6 a.m. against a double line of Iraqi defensive positions running roughly parallel to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.
Kuwait's ambassador to Britain said in London that allied troops had pushed into Kuwait City early Sunday and expressed hope the oil-rich state would be liberated within days.
''They are in Kuwait City,'' Ambassador Gahzi al-Rayes said in a telephone interview with United Press International. ''I don't know if they came in by land, or air, or by sea but we know of some places where they are in control.''
In addition, Kuwaiti sources said the allies captured the Kuwaiti island Faylakah, 15 milies from the mainland, but allied officials would not confirm the capture and the Iraqis disputed it.
Schwarzkopf, while refusing to discuss specific operation, did say that 12 hours into the campaign, U.S. Marines, Army paratroopers, Army air assault forces and Army special forces, along with French and Arab forces, ''have already reached all of their first-day objectives.''
U.S. mechanized and armor forces, in collaboration with troops from Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Syria, ''also launched attacks and they are moving north with great speed,'' he said.
Schwarzkopf said air assaults were continuing and naval forces were providing gunfire support. Amphibious missions were underway off the coast of Kuwait, he said, and aircraft carriers and mine sweepers were seeing action.
Iraq returned to a familiar tactic before and after the ground assault -- firing Scud missiles with conventional warheads at Israel and Saudi Arabia.
One Scud was fired into Israel 10 minutes before the Saturday deadline and at least three more missiles were fired Sunday at Saudi Arabia. The only damage reported came when debris from a Scud intercepted by a U.S. Patriot missile struck an empty school building in Riyadh.
Iraq launched its 17th Scud missile attack against Israel early Monday, the first since the allied ground assault. No injuries or damage were reported.
Iraq Sunday reported heavy fighting along several fronts involving a half dozen of its divisions. It said, ''The heroic Iraqi armed forces contained and foiled the attack by the armies of 30 states led by the United States.''
''The enemy attack has until now failed completely, and (the enemy) is still confused, suffering and yelling in their blood and shame.''
Calling on the allies to remove their restrictions on reporting the war, Iraq said it had wiped out allied paratroopers who landed behind Iraqi lines in the city of Manakish and halted British and French armored units trying to move across the border into Iraq.
Saddam, in a radio address carried by Radio Baghdad, proclaimed ''the mother of all battles has begun'' and called on his forces to ''fight to the death.''
''Iraq will not surrender. The war will end with an Iraqi victory over the aggressive infidel troops,'' he said. ''The Arab nation and the Iraqi people await the victory of our heroic armed forces.''
Baghdad Radio, monitored in Cairo, Egypt, said Saddam Sunday also chaired a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council and his ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party, but gave no further details.
The choice of exactly when to launch the ground campaign was left up to Schwarzkopf under a decision made by Bush Feb. 11, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater revealed Saturday.
Schwarzkopf set the Feb. 24 date before last week's flurry of diplomatic activity by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who in meetings with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz tried to persuade Iraq to leave Kuwait.
Iraq agreed to the Soviet plan for withdrawal Friday. But Bush, after consulting with leaders of the 33-nation allied coalition, rejected the Soviet plan and demanded signs of an Iraqi withdrawal by Saturday.
Bush's decision to issue the ultimatum reflected administration concerns that Iraq was conducting a ''scorched earth'' policy in Kuwait by setting fire to oil facilities. Later, U.S. officials said Iraqi forces were waging a ''systematic campaign'' of violence against Kuwaiti citizens.
Pilots returning from missions over Kuwait Sunday said they could see the heavy smoke from the numerous oil fields set afire by the Iraqis.
''He's putting a lot of smoke up in the air, so he's cutting down the visibility somewhat, but you can still look straight down and see the ground, so I think the guys that are dropping the bombs, it's not hurting them too much,'' said Air Force Capt. Dan Booker, 28, Fremont, Mich.