Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, after briefings from coalition commanders, refused Sunday to discuss the timing of a ground campaign against Iraq, but said he came away impressed with the size of Saddam Hussein's forces. Mr. Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left Saudi Arabia later Sunday for Washington, where they were to brief President Bush Monday.
``We believe the campaign has gone extremely well to date,'' Cheney told a news conference in the Saudi capital. But Cheney said he also was ``struck by the enormous size of the Iraqi military establishment, the size of the Army, the enormous number of tanks, the hardened aircraft shelters, the redundant communications systems.
``This clearly was was a military force designed for major combat,'' he said.
Cheney said his discussions with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the US forces in the Gulf, and other leaders showed, ``We have made major inroads in destroying that capability.''
But Cheney, in a note of caution that could signal his advice for the president, said, ``The possibility still exists that he [Saddam] may find some way to try to surprise us.''
``He retains a very significant part of what was the world's fourth-largest Army. I don't think it's the fourth-largest Army anymore; I think it's smaller than that,'' he said. ``[But] nobody in a senior position wants to underestimate the size of the capability of the force that is left.''
Cheney, declining to discuss the message he and Powell would give Bush, also faulted the notion that the allies could carry on the air war indefinitely.
``I think there is a limit to how long we can do that usefully. There is a point of diminishing returns,'' he said.