WASHINGTON– With U.S., Afghan and Pakistani forces applying pressure on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the enemy “is running out of options for places to go,” a senior U.S. officer in the region said today. Army Col. John M. Spiszer, commander of Task Force Duke, which is centered on the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said the addition of units from the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team in January will change the operating environment in the four-province region of Regional Command East.
Speaking with Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, Spiszer said the region also includes the provinces of Nuristan, Konar and Laghman.
The area is the most violent in Afghanistan, the colonel said, and the border is a large part of that. In the past year, Taliban and other terror groups have been able to find safe havens on both sides of the rugged border. The 4,200 members of Task Force Duke have worked hard to tamp down the violence, he said, and increased Pakistani efforts on their side of the border have helped.
“In our area of operations, the border is becoming less and less of a transit zone, as Afghan national security forces, U.S. troops, the Pakistani military and the Pakistani Frontier Corps continue to conduct complementary operations against our joint enemy,” Spiszer said.
One example is Operation Lionheart, which began recently. This is a complementary operation with the Pakistani military and the frontier corps. All entities share intelligence to prevent the enemy from transiting the border, as operations continue to defeat the insurgents in Bajaur tribal agency in Pakistan, the colonel said.
Spiszer called Lionheart a good start, but acknowledged it has been a challenge for U.S. troops.
“It’s not like I’ve got a lot of extra troops available,” he said. “But what we have done is work very hard to refocus our … intelligence, surveillance [and] reconnaissance assets, to identify who is transiting the border and launch attacks on those deemed a threat.”
The biggest success, the colonel said, is the cooperation and coordination that’s developing between the Pakistani military and coalition and Afghan forces. “I wish I had more resources to devote to it, and we will have more over the coming months,” he said.
The near-simultaneous operations on both sides of the border are making it difficult for the enemy to operate, Spiszer said, noting that the task force will continue to keep pressure on the enemy throughout the winter. “We’re continuing our operations along the border and in the capillary valleys and mountains throughout the winter to give the enemy no respite,” he said.
As the Afghan security forces develop and as the 10th Mountain Division arrives, Task Force Duke “will present the enemy with a transformed environment next spring where he will be hard pressed to operate,” Spiszer said.
An additional 800 Americans will join the task force in January. The additional American forces will provide the force more capacity and “will give us the capability to do things faster, to make a difference quicker,” Spiszer said.
“I think we’re making great progress,” he said, “but there’s just too few of us. I think the potential is there. We’re moving forward, but with the additional troops that they’re going to bring, it’s going to get us into some of the areas that we’re a little bit challenged right now.”
Security is just one aspect of the counterinsurgency fight in the region, the colonel noted. In fiscal 2008, the command spent $160 million toward the advancement and development of Afghanistan. “All the provinces were very heavy into road building,” he said. Irrigation projects, bridges, trade schools, forest conservation and development of agricultural capabilities were also funded.
“We didn’t want to overpromise, but progress is definitely in motion, despite the ongoing combat operations,” Spiszer said.
The command also has helped governance issues, working with governors to handle the refugee crisis from Pakistan in July and working against poppy cultivation. The command also aided Afghans in preparing for regional elections next year, the colonel said.