RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — DETERMINED not to allow Iraqi troops to withdraw from Kuwait in good order, United States-led forces continued to pound enemy positions yesterday, officials here said. Coalition ground troops and aircraft poured fire on Iraq's elite Republic Guard positions along the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border, apparently intent on destroying all the dug-in armor.
In what a Kuwaiti official called the ``mother of all defeats'' for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, coalition troops gave up counting Iraqi prisoners of war, a US official said. Tens of thousands of prisoners have been captured and their volume has often slowed the coalition advance, according to troops on the front lines.
Kuwaiti and Saudi troops were in the forefront of the march toward Kuwait City, largely unopposed, in what was clearly a signal to the Muslim and Arab world that Iraq has been defeated by a broad coalition of forces, rather than just by Western, Christian nations. Iraqi troops pulled out on Tuesday, leaving the city to Kuwaiti resistance fighters who jubilantly raised their red, black, and green national flag.
MANY of the larger buildings in the capital had been damaged by the retreating Iraqis, seemingly as part of a scorched-earth policy in which as many as 600 oil wells have been set afire, according to coalition spokesmen.
Of the Republican Guard's three armored divisions, one had been destroyed by Wednesday morning, according to a US spokesman. Staying largely in their revetted positions, the division had apparently been fighting a rear-guard action to cover the withdrawal toward Iraq of two more armored divisions and three infantry divisions - the entire Republican Guard force.
Units continuing to fight off the advancing Americans and British were subjected yesterday to deadly fire from Apache helicopters, A-10 thunderbolt attack planes, and ground-launched Tow missiles. US officials have refused to measure their success in terms of Iraqi dead and captured, preferring instead to count the tanks and artillery pieces destroyed.
Iraqi efforts to save heavy equipment from destruction or capture appear to be doomed, the Republican Guard's escape route to Baghdad is blocked by coalition troops, according to official statements here, while coalition air power makes the prospect of a retreat toward Basra, fording the Euphrates River under withering fire, a very ugly one for Iraqi soldiers.
Coalition casualties have so far been extraordinarily light, officials here claim. By Wednesday noon only 15 Arab soldiers, four Americans, and one Briton had been killed in action. Not a single American soldier died in 48 hours of fighting with the much-feared Republic Guard on Monday and Tuesday.
The guard, which had been well dug in, appeared to have been severely weakened by weeks of heavy aerial bombardment, as the US commander, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf III had hoped. Its resistance was mainly limited to inaccurate artillery shelling.
Indeed, Iraqi resistance all along the front has been unexpectedly feeble.
``I did not see a defeated enemy,'' says US Lt. Col. Bob Perrich, after picking up Iraqi prisoners in southern Kuwait. ``I saw a group of people who did not want to be soldiers, who wanted to be doing something else with their lives.''
With the goal of liberating Kuwait nearly complete, US forces appear to have set themselves the further aim of reducing Saddam's Army to an unarmed rabble.
US troops have refused to allow the Iraqi leader to pull his men out of Kuwait peacefully. Destruction of the Arab world's largest and most powerful Army would now appear to be the humiliation that US strategists have in store for Saddam.