By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 23, 2009 - Afghan, Pakistani and coalition military operations designed to restrict militants' movements and eliminate safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have accomplished visible gains, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Afghanistan said today. The continuation of Operation Lionheart border-interdiction operations that began last year has made "it difficult for the enemy to function," Army Col. John M. Spiszer, commander of 3rd Brigade Combat Team assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
Spiszer's forces comprise Task Force Duke posted in Regional Command East in northeastern Afghanistan. The task force conducts counterinsurgency, reconstruction and humanitarian operations in Nangarhar, Nuristan, Konar and Laghman provinces that are located near or along the border with Pakistan.
"I believe we are showing great signs of success with this within the central Konar region, especially," Spiszer said.
The colonel praised the labors of his more than 5,300 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in helping Afghan forces provide security and stability across Task Force Duke's area of responsibility. He also saluted the efforts of Afghan and Pakistani troops in interdicting militant infiltration routes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"Our soldiers also conducted numerous patrols and ambush operations to engage enemy fighters moving along infiltration routes" in Konar province near the border, Spiszer said.
The security situation in his area of operations is mixed, Spiszer said. Enemy activity has decreased in the dangerous Korengal Valley, he noted, while the overall number of "security incidents" has increased as a result of increased contact with the enemy.
The enemy has been pushed away from populated areas into less-populated mountainous regions, Spiszer said, following counterinsurgency strategy.
"You can interdict the border. You can position yourself in between the enemy and the populace," Spiszer pointed out. Meanwhile, he said, Afghan forces are performing the bulk of security duties in Nangarhar province.
Afghan forces also are performing most of the security mission to protect Highway 7, an important supply road that runs through Nangarhar and Laghman provinces, Spiszer said.
Also, he said, Task Force Duke has obligated $102 million in commander's emergency response program money to fund the improvement of more than 500 miles of roads and the construction of 97 schools.
"Roads are providing security, micro-commerce and access to services," Spiszer explained, while the building of schools "leads the people to a better future and helps us moderate extremist influences."
In April, Spiszer's soldiers helped earthquake-stricken Afghans living in Nangarhar province. That quake, he said, destroyed more than 200 homes and left thousands of Afghans homeless. The U.S. Air Force-manned provincial reconstruction team in the area responded to the emergency by delivering relief supplies such as water, beans, rice, flour and blankets to residents in need.
And, an agribusiness team from Kansas, Spiszer noted, is helping Afghan farmers in Laghman province with agriculture and livestock development.
Additionally, he said, a military police battalion from Fort Carson, Colo., is partnering with Afghan police serving across the four provinces and 50 districts within his purview.
And, all of these counterinsurgency, reconstruction and humanitarian efforts are helping the Afghan people to gain "faith in their government and hope for their future," Spiszer said.