Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Briefing with Col Spiszer, from Afghanistan

Presenter: Commander, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division Colonel John Spiszer
November 18, 2008
DoD News Briefing With Colonel John Spiszer, Via Teleconference From Afghanistan, at the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va
COL. GARY KECK (director, Department of Defense Press Office): Well, good morning, everyone. According to my watch it is 9:30.

And as you all probably know here, I'm Colonel Gary Keck, the director of the Press Office. And Mr. Whitman asked me to moderate this press conference for him today with Colonel John Spiszer, who is the commander of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. He and his men and women of Task Force Duke are responsible for security and stability operations in the northeastern area of Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border.

Colonel Spiszer has been commanding his unit in Afghanistan since July of this year. And this is his first briefing with the Pentagon press corps. He is speaking to us from Forward Operating Base Fenty, in the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan.

Let me just make sure Colonel Spiszer can hear us. John, can you hear me okay?

COL. SPISZER: Yeah, I hear you great.

COL. KECK: Super. All right. Then, as is our normal format, we'll turn it over to Colonel Spiszer for some opening comments and then we'll go into Q and A.

So with that, let's turn it over to Colonel Spiszer. Go ahead, John.

COL. SPISZER: Okay, good. Good morning. I'm Colonel John Spiszer, commander of Task Force Duke, as already stated. And we hail from Fort Hood, Texas, where we built this brigade starting in April of last year and we deployed it here in June.

We're responsible for four provinces here in the northeast, which is known as N2KL, which includes the Nangarhar, Nuristan, Konar and Laghman provinces. This area here is important because of its resources. These include water and agriculture, timber, gems, its dense and relatively well-educated population of 3 million and its strategic location, which links Kabul and Islamabad and ultimately the west to the east through the historic Khyber Pass.

We're conducting a counterinsurgency mission here in Afghanistan, focused on the security, governance and economic development and information activities. We're doing the security mission essentially with four brigades, which include the 2nd Brigade, 201st Corps of the Afghan National Army, the first zone command of the Afghan Border Police, the district and provincial Afghan Uniformed Police and, of course, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

In addition to the elements that we brought with us from Fort Hood, Texas, we also have the 1st of the 178th Infantry of the Illinois Army National Guard, four Provincial Reconstruction Teams and an Agribusiness Development Team here from the Missouri Army National Guard, the first of its kind.

We have very high hopes for our area. We see great potential in N2KL. A lot of progress has already been made through CERP and by good coordination and the hard work of all of our PRTs, which just rotated over the past few weeks.

In FY 2008, they worked numerous projects to the sum of $160 million toward the advancement and development of Afghanistan.

All the provinces were very heavy into road building, as was Nangarhar, which was also focused on some of its irrigation projects and bridges. Kunar developed a trade school to teach Afghans necessary skills for carpentry, painting, road construction, welding and masonry. Nuristan has started a forest conservation program. And Laghman is working on its agricultural capabilities. It has three rivers that actually run through it, that have water in them year round.

So we didn't want to overpromise. But progress is definitely in motion, despite the ongoing combat operations. Concerning that combat, most of our fighting takes place in the remote areas of N2KL, including Kunar's Korengal Valley, which has been in the news quite a bit lately, the Kamdesh district in Nuristan and sometimes in the foothills of the Tora Bora and Spin Ghar mountains in southern Nangarhar.

This is due to the mountainous and rugged terrain, along the border and in the Hindu Kush mountains, which offers protection for the enemy and a challenge for us to move in, due to the lack of roads and helicopter landing zones.

In these areas, the enemy is able to hide, move and continue resupply of weapons and money that they need to operate. But they are largely in the remoter capillary valleys, where there are few people, and farther from where progress is occurring.

While at this time, we can't fully prevent them from operating in these remote areas, it is easier to fight them there than these mountains and capillary valleys, because it's away from the populace. And we can safely bring to bear our advantages in artillery and combat air support.

While the Kunar province by itself accounts for one-third of all kinetic activities, in Regional Command East or CJTF-101's area, and is also the most violent province in RC East, at this time, the violence is occurring away from the vast bulk of the population, which is protected.

(Audio break.)

Furthermore 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.

Speaking of that, we began Operation Lionheart this past month, where we're conducting these complementary operations with the Pakistani military and the frontier corps. The objective is to share intelligence and prevent the enemy from transiting the border, as they continue operations to defeat the insurgents in Bajaur agency.

By conducting near-simultaneous operations on both sides of the border, we're making it difficult for the enemy to operate and eliminating his essential safe havens. I just had a very successful meeting yesterday at the border with the Bajaur Scouts commander and the ABP zone commander as we work to further improve coordination and prepare future operations.

We're also executing more aggressive combat operations throughout CJTF-101's winter campaign -- (audio break) -- partners to keep the pressure on the enemy and prevent his preparations for the next fighting season. We're continuing our operations along the border and in the capillary valleys and mountains throughout the winter to give the enemy no respite, and along with the ANSF further development and the arrival of elements of the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, we will present the enemy with a transformed environment next spring where he will be hard pressed to operate.

As mentioned earlier, we've done a lot for development, but we've also done quite a bit with governance. We have a sound relationship with all four governors in our provinces. Governor Wahidi in Kunar has done a fantastic job, including handling a mini refugee crisis that began in September, when the Pak -- Pakistani military began their operations, where we had approximately 30,000 displaced civilians come into his province from Pakistan's Bajaur agency. Also have noticed the tremendous job Governor Sherzai has done this past year of making Nangarhar a poppy-free province.

This month we also successfully completed voter registration in Kunar and Nuristan despite the ongoing combat. It has been very rewarding to support the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as they prepare for their elections, which come up this next year. Our primary role in voter registration was to aid in providing materials for site protection, such as wood, sandbags, concertina wire, security wands; and also to provide security with quick-reaction forces if required, which they were not.

We also assisted in the movement of personnel and supplies to remote locations. These resources allowed all 24 voter registration sites within these two provinces to fully function in a secure manner for over a month. Also, the Afghans and the Independent Election Commission did the vast bulk of the work.

I'm happy to say that voter registration in these provinces went very well. We had over 130,000 people register in Kunar and over 20,000 in Nuristan, which represented about 34 percent and 20 percent of their total populations. Now, you got to note that they also have registration that's still current for the -- most of the voting-age population since 2005.

Also in December we kick off voter registration in Nangarhar and Laghman, where we anticipate even greater success.

Okay. I'll be glad to entertain your questions at this time.

COL. KECK: Okay. And as usual, please let him know who he's talking to and what news organization you're from, because he can't see us.

Jeff, go ahead.

Q Colonel, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. I'm interested to know, are you working with a human terrain team, and if so, what value do they -- does the data they provide bring you?

COL. SPISZER: Well, yes, we do have a human terrain team, got a very good officer on my staff who in his training prior to this point had some good relationships with those guys as they formed out of Fort Leavenworth and out in Monterey. And it's a been a great value added to us. It provides kind of the critical element to our staff that we need to help us understand and gather some of the data that we need to get a full picture of the environment that we're operating in.

The counterinsurgency environment is all about the people, and understanding how to connect to the people, to provide them security and to provide them good governance. And without that understanding, we have a really hard time. And these guys are giving us some of that critical effort.

The thing that we've done mostly is to push them down to the lower unit so they could start interacting and engaging in gathering that information that we need, so that we can further our plans and coordination.

But there's definite value added, and I wish I had more of them, in fact.


Q Colonel, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. You said that the -- of -- a brigade from the 10th Mountain Division will help you transform the environment in your area by the spring. What is it that they -- you know, what it is that they're going to be doing that can't be done now?

COL. SPISZER: Okay. Yeah, the 10th Mountain -- the brigade from the 10th Mountain coming in, they're not going to be doing anything different, certainly not in my area, than what we're doing now. They're just going to provide us more capacity to do it and, I think, will give us the capability to do things faster, to make a difference quicker.

I think we're making great progress, 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 -- kind of a little bit of economy of force.

And it's going to be able to allow us to put the pressure on the enemy in more places. So instead of doing sequential-type operations and attacking things slowly over time, we're going to be able to do many more things simultaneously.

For us here, I definitely anticipate being able to do much more along the border. Most of where we have problems now is further inland in the Konar Province and in Nuristan Province. What we haven't done -- what we have a challenge with is working to interdict along the border. And that's put a stretch on us as we work with the Pakistan military as well, but we're doing a lot more there now. But I anticipate when we have some additional forces from the 10th Mountain that we're going to do a much better job, both with our partners across the border and also interdicting and lessening, ultimately, the conflict that we have further inland in our AO.


Q Colonel, this is Jim Garamone, from American Forces Press Service. Two questions, really. Do you have the coordination centers set up where you work with the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps? And second, what's the trend in violence right now? Has the winter sort of cut down on the number of violent episodes in your AO?

COL. SPISZER: That was a little hard to understand. I think you're asking me if I've got the Border Coordination Center in my area. Is that correct?

Q That's right.


COL. SPISZER: Yeah, the Khyber Border Coordination Center isn't in my area. Khyber Pass and Torkham Gate fall into my area, and they are actually co-located, essentially, on one of our forward operating bases, Torkham Base, right there. The actual site itself for the Border Coordination Center falls under the command of the Regional Command East and we provide them support.

That being said, I'm out there pretty frequently. There are -- there are representatives of obviously the coalition there -- our guys, including a couple out of my brigade. There's representatives from the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Border Police, the -- (off mike) -- that operates across from us and then the Frontier Corps.

They're -- they are really working through their procedures now. And the linkages now exist from all areas along the border to flow through there. And what it really does is it provides us -- if we can't connect across the border from where the actual problem may be -- the border is covered in 10,000-foot-high mountains -- we are able to go to the Border Coordination Center and reach through them and figure out what's going on and coordinate our activities.

So I think there's a lot of potential there that we can make use of, and better, in the future. But so far, it's doing pretty good.

And the other aspect of that was the winter decline. I think here it's a little bit different every year, and there's a number of factors in that. When winter arrives -- winter has arrived here. I just flew up to Nuristan, and there's snow on the ground. Many of our passes are probably closed above the 7,000-foot level, which closes a pretty good number of them up in Nuristan and in the Tora Bora mountains, Spin Ghar mountains.

But I have not seen a real reduction in the level of violent acts. But it -- you know, I compare it from last year to this year, and May and June were higher. July and August were lower. September was about the same, and October was actually higher. So this past month in my area it was actually higher, despite what was going on with the Pak military in the Bajaur Agency. I think part of that is because of what's going on. Initially we saw a drop when they started their operations, and now I think they might actually be pushing some guys back this way, which might account for some of the rise.

So it's hard to categorize when you compare from one year to the next, and it's also a matter of qualitative differences. Many of the contacts we see now are much less in duration or intensity as well, almost more just -- just to do something is kind of how I characterize it. They're out there just trying to do something. They haven't had very great effect on us at all, in fact, in the last month, despite the levels.

So overall we've had a slightly more this year than last year, but it's been different. I think one of the reasons October was more was that Ramadan was in September. So Ramadan moves two weeks earlier each year, and what happens is, is that in the past years here, Ramadan's fallen up close to winter, so they can't do many operations afterwards. This year there was a significant -- a whole month of good fighting weather after Ramadan, and I think they took advantage of it in October.

So it's hard to characterize, and like I said, the operations Pakistan's doing is having an impact, both good and bad. And then Ramadan had an impact. But now I think the early winter coming here is going to have another impact, and I think -- (audio break) -- could change.

So I hope those -- that answers your questions.

Q Thank you.

COL. KECK: Gordon?

Q Sir, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. You mentioned roads earlier. Do you see a change at all in the tactics of the insurgents, whereby they have begun to target the newly paved roads as much as they were the unpaved roads in the past?

COL. SPISZER: In our area -- I think every area here -- you've got RC South and then you've got southern RC East and you've got northern RC East; I think it's a little bit different in each area because of -- you're facing a different type of enemy.

In our area they have not targeted the paved roads, although we did have a couple of culverts in southern Nangarhar destroyed just recently. But those are the only ones since we've been here for five months now. We had one other instance up in the Pech River Valley in central Kunar where an IED was turned in that was in a culvert, and that's it. That's the entire sum (of ?) attacks against our paved roads: three since we've been here.

So I think that there's a -- one, there's a great value in the infrastructure that's going into this area that the local populace is placing on it. They see the difference it makes in their lives very rapidly; they haven't had these roads in the past, and there's a lot of people who want them. And they've created an environment where the enemy so far has not been able to impact them.

Now, I am worried that as the enemy becomes more desperate, he's -- he might be willing to try and do that. But so far up here, the roads have been relatively sacrosanct once they've gone in. So we see the IEDs mostly in the dirt roads, and unfortunately, that's mostly in the narrow roads, very hard to operate -- places we can't take MRAPs. So one of the changes that we've seen this year in the tactics of the enemy is an increase in the lethality of the IEDs on the dirt roads in our area. And that has been problematic.

But overall, though, the paved roads -- and what we see here is the people see them as progress and they help protect them. And they're also furthering our ability to provide security, and they're also furthering the ability of the government to get out and do things for the people.

COL. KECK: David?

Q Colonel, this is David Morgan from Reuters. Would it be accurate to say that one of your main objectives is to make it difficult for militants to spend the winter in Afghanistan, in order to head off a larger spring offensive next year?

And what have you been seeing in terms of attempts by militants to supply those that are already in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan? What sorts of movements are you seeing?

COL. SPISZER: Yeah, I had a hard time understanding the first part of that. I think I got it, though, about making it difficult for the enemy to stay here in the winter. I would like to do that.

Unfortunately, I think what we're going to see is us -- our ability -- and we actually designed some operations to drive the enemy out of Afghanistan. And unfortunately -- or fortunately, I guess, in some ways, the Pakistan military's doing operations that really, ultimately, are in some ways designed to drive them out of Pakistan. So working together, somebody's -- you know, they're running out of options on places to go, which I think is a great thing in the long run.

In the short run, I think that some of the places that he's operated in the summer in our central areas in the (capillary valleys ?) of Kunar might end up being where he is for the winter, which, as General Schloesser said, he anticipates potentially some more of these guys staying around and possibly -- and we are certainly going to continue our offensive operations in the winter. So we may see some increased violence trends over the winter that we haven't seen in the past. But I think if that is the case, it'll be because the Pakistan military is taking away their safe havens in Pakistan.

So that's going to be a great thing for us in the long run. It may make it a little bit more challenging for us, in the short term, but I think we've got the plans and the capabilities in place to deal with that, and it would -- just -- as we further synchronize our efforts with the Pakistan military and develop our capabilities along the border, any of that trans-border movement -- which includes weapons and money, which is really what they need is weapons and money, when we start interdicting that, then these guys are going to start dying on the vine.

And what was the second part?

Q Can I follow up? If you could -- can you please tell us what sort of volumes you're seeing in terms of militants coming across the border? And are they Afghan, Taliban returning to Afghanistan? Are they foreign fighters? Who are they?

COL. SPISZER: Okay, well, if I saw them all, they wouldn't be around anymore. So I can't give you real definitive figures on what I see happening there. We have a very broad mix up in this area.

In the south, we have what's called the Taliban front, or, correction, the Tora Bora front, which is kind of successors of the Hezb-i-Islami Unis Kalis (ph) faction. We also have a lot of drug smuggling. Then as you work your way up to the eastern side, we have TNSM, which is a Pakistani -- Islamic fundamentalist group that's associated with the Pakistan Taliban. Then we also have Taliban and we also have LET (ph) the Kashmiri separatists.

And they all kind of come across and do different things. Some of them come over here and basically train. They fight us to train to go do things in Pakistan or in Kashmir. Some of them come here because they're paid to. So there's a lot of different reasons and different groups here that don't coordinate their activities very well, which in fact gives us an advantage here.

But I don't see large numbers of foreigners. We hear lots of rumors of foreigners. And you got to remember, up in Nuristan, a foreigner is anybody not from that valley. So it gets very hard to sort some of that stuff out, because it's very isolated. But, you know, and a foreigner is definitely a Pakistani or Punjabi, which we -- is not what we're thinking of when we talk about it. We're talking about Arabs and Chechens and Uzbeks. We hear about them quite a bit, but finding good, solid evidence is very rare.

That being said, I think most of the guys that'll be here in the winter will be Afghans, and most of the Pakistanis will be elsewhere and there'll probably be some other folks here and there. I think what I might not see this year is the Afghans that go to winter in Pakistan. I think they're going to stay here.

Q Hi, sir, it's J.J. Sutherland with National Public Radio. My question is, the Khyber Pass is in your area, and given that it was closed briefly and just reopened recently, I was wondering, what is your view on the security of the Khyber Pass? And also, just as a separate question, you mentioned the refugees that came into your area recently. And I was wondering, what happened to them? Are you seeing more, or how is that playing itself out?

COL. SPISZER: Well, obviously, the Khyber Pass is pretty vital, and it has been for thousands of years. Fortunately, it was only a very limited interdiction. We do get lots of reports of what happens there, because we're right across the border.

I have not, we have not seen anything since we've been here significant enough to cause me any great concern.

The Pakistani military promptly has taken action to ensure the security of the convoys that come through there that are pretty much essential for the ISAF forces here. In addition, the logisticians here have done a great job. We are really not too worried that if there is -- if it does get any worse that we wouldn't be able to handle it.

So I feel pretty confident about both the Pakistanis taking care of it, and also if there is a little bit more of an interdiction that our forces here will be able to take care of it as well over here, we'll be able to handle the (situation ?).

As to the refugees that came in, I think that's a tremendous success story. It highlights some of the capacity that's grown here kind of unnoticed over time. And I think it has to do with President Karzai, and he's got a new Cabinet, function (of the ?) IDLG, the independent directorate of local governance, and they've started getting some really superb governors, both Governor Mashal in Laghman and Governor Wahidi in Konar are appointees of the IDLG within the last year; in fact, Governor Wahidi's been on the job for one year.

And granted, with some of the PRTs' mentorship early on this year, they prepared their disaster relief committee to handle flooding because they've got the Konar River, they traditionally have spring floods and summer floods from the snow melt. That didn't really materialize this year, but they had the structure in place.

So when the refugees started coming across from Bajaur because of the combat operations in Pak -- (audio break) -- Wahidi formed his council on his own, they determined where the refugees were and where they were coming, they contacted UNHCR and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, and said, hey, we need some help, we need some relief efforts. They coordinated with the local authorities, found these people places to stay without having to develop camps -- a lot of tribal connections on both sides of the border -- and they have, so far, since September, been able to keep them fed and clothed and housed successfully.

Now, I think they might be at the limit of their capacity, and fortunately, it's topped out at about 30,000, but I think it's a great success story so far. And unfortunately, also I think it's something that they're probably going to have to continue dealing with through the winter. As the snows are falling, I don't think they're going to go home before spring, especially since the Pakistan military is still doing operations in those areas.

COL. KECK: Come back to Luis.

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News.

I had a specific question about -- there was a report about a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation called Operation Lionheart. And just wanted to see if that is actually an accurate report, sort of like talking about increased ISR links with the Pakistanis and with your forces and that your forces, in turn, are pretty much doing blocking efforts from the Bajaur operation.

COL. SPISZER: Roger. Yeah, no, Operation Lionheart has taken place in our area. We are in coordination on a daily basis with the Frontier Corps. It has been a challenge for us because we are largely committed. It's not like I've got a lot of extra troops available. But what we have done is work very hard to refocus our ISR assets, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance assets, to do everything we can to identify transiting across the border. And with that information with -- (audio break) -- we do have available, predominately mobile forces, we're working along the Konar River Valley and up into some of the passes to interdict and ambush any enemy forces that are either coming this way, trying to escape Pakistan, or going that way, trying to reinforce into Pakistan.

The biggest success I'll tell you straight up is the cooperation and coordination that's developing between the Pakistani military. I wish I had more resources to devote to it, and we will have more over the -- over the coming months, but it's also paving the way in this cooperation. Yesterday, when I met with the commander of the Bajaur scouts, we had a very good meeting up at Nawa Pass, which is basically in the center of the Konar province, and the 170 kilometers of border between Konar and Pakistan. That's about the central point, significant place there that we're building a new road to connect to Pakistan, a bridge across the Konar River, probably the third border coordination center, it will end up going up there. And we are starting to really -- they've had good connections in the past, and we're taking those to the next level with Lionheart: the sharing of the intelligence, the contact numbers, company commanders meeting face-to-face up there at Nawa. Can't do that many other places because, I mean, there are some pretty forbidding mountains, but where we can we're doing that.

We're getting ready to -- we -- this has spilled over into cooperation further to the north. I've had commanders in meetings north of Bajaur, north of Konar, that hadn't been meeting in the past because of this. And I think it's going to spill throughout the border area and in cooperation between both the ISAF forces and the Pakistani military and the ANSF, more importantly the Afghan forces and the Pakistan forces.

So I think Lionheart provides us a good start.

It's starting to work, and more importantly, it's going to be better in the future for whatever comes after Lionheart.

COL. KECK: Courtney.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Two very quick questions.

With the exception of the terrain, which is an obvious impediment to security along the border, what is now your biggest hindrance when it comes to stopping interdiction across the border and security in that area?

And then also, we've heard reports of an increase in attacks on convoys, supply convoys. Are you seeing that all in your area? And can you quantify that if you are?

COL. SPISZER: Well, I -- you know, along the border, terrain's a pretty big impediment. (Laughs.) Everything else seems to pale beside the terrain.

We've got -- let me take a look at my -- 470 kilometers of -- (audio break) -- N2KL and virtually all of it's above 5,000 feet. So it can't get much worse than that. And then you've got about 10 kilometers of mountains stretching into Pakistan and 10 kilometers or so stretching into Afghanistan. So it's a pretty big mountain range with very few roads and trails through it.

And then, like other places, the enemy's actions as he goes through there and attacks different sides, it makes it hard for them to trust each other and work together because they're never sure who's who. It's very difficult. So the enemy's actions themselves in targeting the border posts make it the next most difficult thing, I think.

We're going to -- the border's going to drastically change in N2KL. Our predecessors made great strides with the Afghan border police, tripling their capability in the -- (audio break) -- in this area.

I think General Cone talked to you a couple of days ago. Focused border development is ongoing. We've sent out of this area -- 400 out of the 2,400 border police that we currently have are in training right now. We're going to train the entire force, plus recruit the additional 400 or so that we need. So we're going to increase the numbers and the capabilities of the border police over this winter.

In addition, the Afghan National Army is growing in N2KL and they're predominately going to be down in the Nangahar area of the border, whereas the biggest increase of the border police is probably going to be in the Konar area.

And then the third thing that's going to change is we are going to get elements of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain, and I'm going to focus them on the border.

So despite the difficulties and challenges in terrain, overcoming some of the challenges in coordination, which we're doing now through Lionheart, and the challenges of the enemy's actions, trying to cause us to distrust each other -- (audio break) -- borders in N2KL especially is going to be completely different next spring.

COL. KECK: Jeff, last one.

Q Okay.

Colonel, you're talking about Pakistani military operations. What is it -- what is it that the Pakistanis are doing now that they haven't done before?

COL. SPISZER: Well, I could really only talk about now. I saw things in the news, but I have firsthand knowledge of what they're doing now.

What they're doing now is a sustained operation to clear -- clear, build, hold. They're definitely in the clear phase in the Bajaur Agency right now. And they're working fairly slowly, but deliberately with both regular Pakistan military and the Frontier Corps in a sustained fashion over the course of almost two months now. And the operations aren't done yet, and I anticipate that they'll probably extend -- (audio break) -- to other parts of the border.

So from my perspective, what they've been doing over the last two months is a sustained offensive that's really put the pressure on the enemy in a way that I don't think, from what I've learned in the past, has happened before. So I think that's the biggest change.

COL. KECK: Okay. Well, we are at the end of our time. And we would like to give you an opportunity, Colonel Spiszer, to provide us with any final observations or closing remarks.

COL. SPISZER: Okay. Well, nothing of great import, I guess, but just a couple of thanks.

I'd like to thank the Pentagon press corps and yourself, sir, for helping me to keep the American and international community informed of what we're doing here in Afghanistan.

I'd also like to take this time to thank the families and loved ones who've been taking such good care of us over here with care packages, letters, support that they provide -- (audio break). And that's one thing that -- we have a challenge moving stuff around here a little bit. It's very mountainous. We have to use a lot of helicopters. And the one thing that we're always having a hard time about is all the mail and good wishes, and we've got to get those moved around. And that's a good problem to have. And it's just been really tremendous, all the support that we have over here, and it's very much appreciated.

So thank you very much from FOB Fenty, and duty first.

COL. KECK: Thank you very much. And we hope to hear from you again down the road and get another update on operations.

Thank you much. Thanks for coming.

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