In a Jan. 19 op-ed article "No Ground Assault," Edward N. Luttwak postulated that air power alone, through interdiction of Iraqi supply lines, would bring the war to a swift end without the need for a ground assault. Retired major general Edward B. Atkeson {letters, Jan. 31} took exception, contending ground forces are essential to root out a determined foe: essential because the Iraqis may be "prepared to absorb the punishment." As a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, I believe that condidtional statement should be the key element of any future coalition strategy.

Given Saddam Hussein's absolute control, general intransigence and relatively safe living conditions, there is no reason to believe that he will allow his forces to withdraw from Kuwait until he feels that it is in his long-term interest to do so. The options that lie ahead include more than the stark extremes of massive aerial bombardment or the massive engagement of ground forces. The visualization of an Iwo Jima or an Antietam may suit Saddam Hussein, but we need not accept it. We are now in control, thanks to a well-conceived and almost flawlessly executed air campaign.

The best strategy for the next phase of the war would be to use our "air supremacy" to insert, cover and extract joint and combined special-forces teams, at times and places of our choosing, to complete the destruction of key military targets not fully accessible to elimination through the use of conventional air-strike weapons. Such "hit-and-run" raids would surely risk casualties, but the losses should be well below those associated with the "root 'em out" approach, an alternative that seems as likely to satisfy Saddam Hussein as it does the alliance forces.

This attack strategy could lead to the defeat of the Iraqi army in the field in one of two ways:

(1) Either the Iraqi army's logistic support system would be sufficiently closed off to render the army ineffective; or

(2) The Iraqis would leave the safety of their entrenched positions to respond to the raids or to try to draw us into Saddam's hoped-for massive land battle. Once their army is exposed in movement, it could be hit with the full weight of coalition strike capabilities and defeated in detail.

This "draw 'em out/starve 'em out" approach is not inconsistent with the U.N. mandate, and it appears to be in line with coalition strategy evidenced to date. The most unfortunate aspect of this strategy, like any other, is that hostilities can only be ended when Saddam says so, and presumably he'll be eating full meals in a relatively placid environment right up to the time he makes that decision. Given that prospect, a ground assault makes no sense. ROBERT M. POMEROY Alexandria