Looking down from his F-15, Air Force Col. John McBroom sees the rolling sands, the occasional oasis and, more importantly, "big blackened holes" where Iraqi troops are dug in.

"We're taking a very heavy toll on the troops," says McBroom, commander of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing. "Everybody is getting hit up there right now."Up there is Kuwait and southern Iraq, where the Air Force and other allies in the war against Iraq are increasingly targeting Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard and other ground troops.

The additional sorties being flown against Saddam's formidable army are a prelude to an allied ground offensive.

From his perch, McBroom says the effort is achieving stunning success, but he still urged patience.

"The air war is just absolutely getting to him," said McBroom. "He's getting pounded. I would hope we do not go in on the ground until we have almost completely obliterated him from the air."

"I'd like to see the Army go in and move the last soldier out, not the last 100,000," he said.

Some allied ground and air commanders say the U.S.-led coalition wants to cut Saddam's fighting power at least in half before sending in ground forces against Iraq's entrenched army.

McBroom said some units already are below half their previous strength.

He said the allies are facing less and less opposition from Iraq's anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles.

"We are flying over Bagdhad, we are flying over everywhere he is," McBroom said. "If they send up any fighters to challenge, we'll shoot them down."

He said allied mastery of the air is such that he and other F-15C escort pilots have been able to scan the ground below during missions and help the allied bombing cause by calling in Iraqi targets.

The troop targets - those "big blackened holes" - have become "our No. 1 priority," McBroom said.

During the opening week of the war, McBroom said he escorted a squadron of B-52s that dropped 240,000 pounds of explosives on a Republican Guard position. Those troops now are being targeted three times a day.

Allied attacks on bridges, roads and convoys are cutting supply lines to Saddam's forces at "a pretty fantastic rate" but still a bit short of the allies' goal, he said.

McBroom said Iraq's air force still has several hundred fighters but apparently no will to fight. Still, he said allied pilots are being lectured against complacency.