RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, FEB. 15 -- Baghdad's conditional offer today to withdraw from Kuwait had "no effect whatsoever" on the allied air war against Iraq, a senior military commander said, as U.S. bombers continued to pound Iraqi positions without letup, concentrating their strikes on preparations for a ground offensive.

The sustained fury of U.S. and allied air power -- 2,600 sorties, including 800 in the Kuwait area -- underlined what military officials said is a determination to pursue full-bore their campaign to soften up Iraqi defenses for a ground attack unless political authorities in Washington call it off.

Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal, deputy operations chief of Operation Desert Storm, said U.S. reconnaissance has detected no indication that Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait have received new orders or are preparing to withdraw.

Despite an initial rush of excitement at allied headquarters here, Neal said, the Iraqi announcement agreeing to withdraw from Kuwait under certain conditions had "no effect whatsoever" on the pace of military operations.

"I think the president made it abundantly clear that our mission remains the same, and that United States forces and the coalition forces will continue to execute our mission of attempting to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait," Neal declared.

"Until our mission is changed by the national command authority, we're going to execute our campaign plan to the letter," he said later in today's Central Command briefing here.

U.S. warplanes have begun dropping giant BLU-82 "daisy-cutter" bombs and other fuel-air explosives on Iraqi positions to "experiment" with their effectiveness in clearing minefields or blasting away berms and clusters of trucks and armored vehicles, Neal said.

The BLU-82, whose powerful blast can destroy anything within a wide circle, was used during the Vietnam War to instantly clear helicopter landing zones. Fuel-air explosives, dubbed a "poor man's atom bombs," disperse a petroleum mist cloud and then ignite it, producing a massive fireball and concussion over a broad area that can detonate land mines.

Use of these weapons was another indication that the emphasis of allied bombing is gradually shifting from strategic sites in Iraq to more tactical targets in the Kuwait theater in preparation for the allied ground offensive that most military officers believe is inevitable. As speculation grows that "G-Day," the start of the ground offensive, is nearing, a fourth U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the Persian Gulf in recent days.

Front-line U.S. troops who would take part in a ground offensive were mostly skeptical about the Iraqi offer to withdraw from Kuwait. "I'll believe it when I'm home with my kids," Staff Sgt. Ward Warren, 28, of Fontana, Calif., told combat pool reporters.

"I'm afraid to believe it," said Marine Capt. Don Wogaman, 29, of Washington. "I'm afraid to set myself up for a big downfall."

But some American troops expressed hope that the war might end before they are ordered into harm's way. "I said a little prayer of thanks," said 40-year-old Tim Johnson of Brule, Neb., a Navy medical corpsman stationed with a front-line unit of Marines. "If it's true, it would save a lot of lives on both sides."

Reflecting what appears to be growing U.S. confidence in the bombing campaign's effectiveness, Neal said Iraqi troops in the Kuwait theater of operations are showing signs of disorientation and demoralization as allied jets choke off supplies from Iraq and pummel their positions and armor day and night with cluster and laser-guided 2,000-pound bombs.

"I think that down on the ground, they are confused," he said. "They are disorganized, and I think it is a result of a very tough, effective air campaign."

Another eight Iraqis defected to U.S. forces, three to Saudis and 30 to Egyptians at outposts near the border, allied commands announced, bringing to more than 1,100 the number of those detained since the war began one month ago. Turkish authorities also announced that in the past four days, nearly 500 Iraqi soldiers and civilians have poured across the Iraqi-Turkish border, according to the Associated Press.

A British spokesman, Group Capt. Niall Irving, said "morale squads" from Iraq's elite Republican Guard divisions have been ordered to patrol front-line areas to prevent further defections among the conscript troops along the Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders with Saudi Arabia.

Sinking Iraqi military capability in Kuwait and today's strings-attached withdrawal offer renewed speculation on whether coalition forces would be content to leave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in power at the head of a still-powerful state, should he carry out his promise to leave Kuwait. A senior diplomatic source said Saudi Arabia and other Arab members of the anti-Iraqi alliance have expressed concern that such an outcome could be a recipe for trouble later.

But a Saudi military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Robayan, declined to discuss the issue, declaring only that his government's position is that Iraq must comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding withdrawal from Kuwait and restoration of the ruling Sabah family to power there.

A senior U.S. military source cautioned that, despite the spreading destruction of Iraqi forces in Kuwait, Iraq's military establishment has not been eliminated. Even after 30 days of relentless bombing, it retains the power to resist an allied ground attack and the longer-term strength to exert influence in the Persian Gulf if the war stops now.

"If we were to stop the war tomorrow, he is still a force to be reckoned with," the officer said, referring to Saddam.

Despite speculation that G-Day is drawing near, however, a senior U.S. military officer said the commander of Desert Storm forces, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, has not yet received authorization from Washington to order the attack.

At the same time, knowledgeable U.S. military officers pointed out the southward drift of the allied bombing campaign over the last 10 days. This movement, they said, is the result of a need to destroy targets near the Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders with Saudi Arabia that could become obstacles to field commanders ordered to push through Iraqi defenses and take over Kuwait.

"The closer we get to G-Day . . . the more you'll see the front being prepared in front of ground units," one officer explained. "As we get closer to moving across the line, the game is going to be hitting the things that {allied} commanders want taken out."

Neal said many of today's air strikes in the "KTO," or Kuwait theater of operations, concentrated on Iraq's ability to deliver battlefield chemical weapons, blasting chemical munitions stores and chemical-able weapons. Continuing an effort begun earlier this week, allied warplanes hit 155mm and 152mm artillery along with Frog surface-to-surface missile launchers, three weapons that U.S. intelligence believes are capable of firing chemical warheads at oncoming allied troops, an informed U.S. officer said.

U.S. aircraft flew 150 sorties in the continuing campaign to hunt down Iraq's mobile Scud missile launchers, the command announced. In an unusual twist, Neal reported, a U.S. F-15 Echo ground attack jet searching for mobile Scud launchers destroyed an Iraqi helicopter in midair by dropping a laser-guided bomb on top of the hovering aircraft. The helicopter was the 41st Iraqi aircraft shot down in the war, Neal said.

At the same time, a Navy A-6E returning from a mission crashed on the flight deck of the USS America when its brakes failed, Neal said. The plane missed a retaining cable and slammed into a safety net. Both crewmen ejected and were only slightly injured, he said, but the aircraft was badly damaged and dumped overboard.