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DOD News Briefing with Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Osterman via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commanding General of Task Force Leatherneck and First Marine Division Forward Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman
October 26, 2010

                COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations):  Good morning here at the Pentagon, and good evening in Afghanistan.  I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room Brigadier General Joseph Osterman, the commanding general of Task Force Leatherneck and the First Marine Division Forward.   

                As part of Regional Command Southwest, Task Force Leatherneck is comprised of approximately 10,700 personnel, and is responsible for all U.S. Marine ground forces and the Georgian 32nd Infantry Battalion in Helmand province.   

                General Osterman assumed his duties in Afghanistan in March. This is his first time joining us in this format.  He joins us today from his headquarters at Camp Leatherneck in the central Helmand province to provide an update on current operations.  General Osterman will make some opening comments, and then he will take your questions. 

                And with that, sir, I'll turn it over to you. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Okay.  Thanks, Dave.  

                First, good morning.  It's great to be with you.  And appreciate the opportunity to entertain your questions.   

                As was described, we're located here pretty much in the middle of central Helmand.  Our forces for Task Force Leatherneck are spread throughout most of the Helmand province.   

                I do have some forces spread into a district in Nimroz province called Khash Rod, and also in Delaram. 

                Really, to describe a little bit to you, just to frame it as far as current operations and how things are going, we have three key districts which are located in the central Helmand River Valley; that being Marja, Nawa and Garmsir.  These are the areas with most of our population and where we've applied most of our effort.  To be quite frank with you, they've been doing very well. 

                We've seen very good security situation throughout, as they develop.  And it should be noted that they develop at different stages and different levels over time.  But in particular, Nawa and Garmsir are doing exceptionally well.  We're seeing not only progression in terms of the development and the governance aspects of things, but also seeing the security situation improve quite a bit there as well. 

                As far as Marja goes, I think most everybody's very familiar with that.  It's actually doing quite well, also.  We now have quite a few children at school.  We've got business that's thriving in all the bazaars.  The security situation is such that we've essentially been implementing our "ink blot strategy":  pushing the enemy forces, the insurgent forces, out to the periphery of the area.  And that allows the inner area to thrive and to enjoy a relatively peaceful environment in order for those things like development to take hold. 

                Now, with those three key districts we have in the center, we've also obviously got a lot of activity that go on to the north, to the west and to the south.  Those operations are designed to essentially isolate those core population areas as we protect the population there.  Out to the west, in Delaram and Khash Rod, mostly interdiction operations; not a huge amount of activity out there. 

                But we do have force presence, along with our ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] partners, in maintaining a good sense of security through that area, particularly along Route 1 and Route 9, which are the two paved roads that run through our area. 

                Down to the south, very sparsely populated area, but along the southern Helmand River Valley in the districts of Rig and also Dishu, we have forces down there that are working with the population that's down that way, as well as doing interdiction operations further south towards the Pakistani border, interdicting those enemy forces that try to come north. 

                And then lastly, up to the north of our area, we have area -- or districts of Sangin, Kajaki, Musa Qal'eh, also Now Zad.  Those are all in varying levels of prosperity and moving forward in terms of progress.  Now Zad is coming along quite well, de-mining efforts going on in that area from the initial clearing from last year, schools coming up, again, a lot of development projects coming together.  Up through Kajaki, we basically have security operations going in conjunction with the hydroelectric dam that's located there that provides some power down through the Helmand River Valley, but equally important out to Kandahar.  And then, lastly, with the Sangin area, we just did a transfer of authority with the British in that area.  They set the conditions very well for us to go ahead and move in and continue to push progress in there as far as expanding the security zone that we have, and then obviously implementing our development and governance efforts as well. 

                So that pretty much gives a rundown on the area overall.  I don't want to eat up too much of the time with background information there, but it kind of sets the stage for any questions that you might have. 

                Q     General, can I ask you to talk a little bit more specifically about Sangin and the 3-5 Marines up there?  I believe they've had a fair amount of casualties since they took over.  Can you talk about the distribution and the type of operations they've been doing? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Sure.  In the Sangin area, obviously one of our -- basically one of our more concerned security challenges or one of our more active security challenges, I should say, right now they are arrayed around the district center.  And the operations that you're seeing them do right now, as I mentioned, expanding the security bubble that moves out from the district center into the upper Sangin valley, and also to the west and to the east in particular, some down to the south in what we call the southern green zone. 

                Essentially, that area has always been difficult in terms of IEDs.  That's where most of the casualties over the last two weeks have occurred, is through IED activity.  Three-five just came into that area, not only from a standpoint of the transfer of authority with the British, but they've also just recently arrived in Afghanistan, so they're within their first 30 days. 

                Essentially, they've gone in, done a great job of getting used to the ground, starting to interact with the people, develop relationships.  And as they've moved out to expand the security bubble, obviously, they've run up against resistance. However, the casualties that they've taken, while seeming acute here in the near term with these last two weeks, are not unusual for the kinds of casualties that we've incurred when we've gone into other areas for the first time. 

                Q     Hi, General.  This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. 

                Can you talk a little bit more about Marja?  How would you characterize the security situation there now?  And what sort of Afghan security force presence is there now?  Is it -- is security continuing to improve there, and are you in the -- now finally past the clear phase and in the hold phase?  And then, how many Afghans are helping secure the area? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Courtney, great question.  It's -- actually, the security situation is improving steadily.  And I think that's something that, you know, regardless of the area that we talk about, that's important to realize is, you know, from the initial clearing operations, there is a timeline that -- as with any counterinsurgency effort, takes time to build security, move into the hold phase and into the build phase. 

                So at this point, we're -- we have cleared the area in the conventional sense.  We continue to do security operations to support the hold phase, but at this point we're starting to see, essentially, the bazaars -- literally thousands of people in the bazaars on bazaar day.  As I mentioned before, seeing the schools come up.  We're seeing a lot of freedom of movement on the roads with families moving about, you know, unescorted or anything like that.  We've recently seen the governor and government officials traveling by road from Lashkar Gah into Marja and back, unescorted by military forces.  So that gives you an idea of essentially what the security situation is.   

                As far as the Afghan security forces in there, we've actually made incredible progress.  We've now got over 300 police in Marja, which -- literally, the police force didn't exist a couple of months ago.  I also would take you a little further back to the initial clearing operations when most of the people from Marja would tell you they would want nothing at all to do with police, and that was because they had such a terrible time with the police under the previous Taliban regime. 

                And now, just one small vignette from about two weeks ago.  Had a young child that was lost in Marja, and the local people actually, rather than contacting us as the coalition forces, went to the police in Marja first.  They mobilized, found the child.  They thought the child might have been hurt in a firefight or something like that, but in this case, the child was just lost, the police found him, returned him to the parents and, you know, a very good news story in that regard.  

                We also have two ANA -- Afghan army -- kandaks located in Marja. And we also have two of their national police, the ANCOP [Afghan National Civil Order Police], battalions located in Marja as well.  So a very robust force, but the one that I would highlight is the police, who are doing exceptional work and have grown very rapidly and stood up to the task.  

                Q     General, Elisabeth Bumiller from The New York Times. 

                How many Afghan government officials are there in Marja right now, in the district center?  You know, have you filled all those slots? 

                And secondly, on the -- on the question of security in Marja, do you have a number of just significant events per day right now?  I know it was dropping in the summer.  I'm curious what it is now. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  You know, as far as specific numbers, I'll have to get back to you on the details of that.  In Marja, I can tell you that the Afghan government, the provincial government has made Marja their effort -- their focus of effort. 

                We have, obviously, the district governor in there.  We've got a prosecutor in there.  We've also got a director of education who has just recently gone out to help with the building of the Marja high school and the vocational center that we're putting in there right now.  So there are those governmental functions that are working well in Marja. 

                I would say that throughout all of the districts, obviously, you know, the human resource issue is a difficult issue for the government to contend with, but they're making steady progress that way.  We're trying to help from a mentoring perspective, offering expertise when we can to assist in those efforts. 

                As far as the security situation and the number of incidents per day, it really does vary, although here recently Marja has dropped down literally to the single-digit number of events that occur each day.  Most of these are small-arms fires which, even though we catalogue those as an event, it's literally what we call "shoot and scoot," where they'll have somebody -- and this may be criminal, it may be insurgent; it's difficult to tell -- but they'll just shoot a few rounds off, and then basically they won't stand to engage coalition forces.  They more or less just try to get some attention, and then they move on.  So we're, in a very positive sense, seeing very few incidents that we would call troops in contact -- literally, I'd -- you know, almost single digits per week, perhaps, that occur, where we actually have a no-kidding force-on-force engagement that you would think of in the classic sense. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Jim. 

                Q     General, Jim Michaels with USA Today. 

                I just wanted to ask, what level of reintegration are you seeing at the local level across the battlefield; in other words, Taliban fighters willing to put down their weapons and join society and so forth? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  You know, that's -- as far as the local level, that's kind of a difficult one to judge, because what I consider to be out there is kind of what I call "big-T" Taliban and "little-t" taliban.  Big-T Taliban are your ideologically driven folks, many of them from out of the area, who literally are the leadership and the financiers and all those folks involved in the insurgency. 

                And then you have the small-T taliban, which is essentially your local Taliban, who basically, for whatever reason, whether it be monetarily or for just vendettas or whatever it might be, decide to join the insurgency.  Some of these, particularly like in Marja, are left over from previous days. 

                And what we're seeing is that, in fact, from a reintegration perspective, for the little-T taliban, which is mostly what we deal with, you're really not going to know whether or not they reintegrated or not, because they just decide not to fight.  You know, they're the next-door neighbor; they're the guy that lives over in the next block, as in the case of the way that Marja's organized.  So in that regard, we are getting indications that there are more the small-T taliban just being absorbed back into the communities, nothing that they do through a formal reintegration process. 

                However, the -- Governor Mangal and the provincial government is standing up the formal processes to allow for the big-T Taliban, if you will, to conduct formal reintegration and come in.  He's conducted shuras with the local population to let them know that that is a national process that has been instituted by President Karzai, and that it is available to them in order to reintegrate back into society, you know, with, you know, various incentives, such as obviously many of them are concerned about their families and things like that, if, in fact, they decide to reintegrate.  So accommodating those kinds of needs. 

                So, basically, to answer your question, we really see just mostly low-level.  We get indirect indications that they've come in.   

                Obviously we see a reduction in activity and -- as some of these reintegrations occur with the small-T taliban. 

                And then I would also say that you -- a good -- another indicator not directly associated with it, but indirectly, that we also tie in to security mechanisms, is that we're seeing a lot more interest now in essentially neighborhood watch type of programs, where a lot of these folks that would have been fighters otherwise are now essentially reintegrating into their communities to form either under the ALP Program -- the Afghan Local Police Program -- or other programs, the -- essentially that neighborhood watch that takes on those specific areas that their community or tribe or whatever decides that they don't want any Taliban into and that they want to protect and have an opportunity for a peaceful lifestyle. 

                Q     General, hi.  It's David Cloud with the L.A. Times. 

                You've described sort of steadily increasing security across your area of operations, it sounds like.  And I'm wondering, I guess, how you -- you've also described dealing primarily with little-T taliban. I'm wondering how you assess whether you're having a lasting impact on the insurgency in that -- in Helmand, and whether you are having -- whether you believe you are having a lasting impact on the insurgency, or whether these guys are fading away and will come back when the Marines draw down or some other event occurs that allows them to kind of resume operations at their old level. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Well, that's a great question.  You know, it's one of those things that we obviously strive for, and that is a set of irreversible conditions.  And I think that essentially what you see there in a couple of ways -- one of that, for the big-T Taliban, frankly, with our Special Operations forces, we continue to pursue them. 

                We get an awful lot of indications and I see more and more here where -- we have the big-T Taliban refusing to step up to the plate from a leadership role. 

                So in the first instance there, that tells me that they're having a very difficult time constituting leadership in those areas where we're being effective, and therefore, very unwilling to come back into the areas in order to, you know, recreate the insurgency, if you will.   

                That's tied in with, essentially, the mechanism that really makes this irreversible, and that is that the local people refuse to tolerate the insurgency in their midst.  And again, that's -- indicators that we're seeing from that is the fact that the local, national people are giving us tips about where IEDs are.  They're telling us who the Taliban are.  They're telling us where all these insurgent-related activities are occurring so that we can go out and take care of them, and frankly, even more impressively, is the fact that they're giving that information to the police and to the army units that will be there for the duration, and those units are very effectively going out to either kill or capture the Taliban or the insurgents in the area. 

                So I think as you take a look at that and you couple that with obviously our dedicated efforts to improve the competency and the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces that those -- when you have the people unwilling to tolerate it and you have an effective police/military force available to counter it, that really does then establish a lasting effect.   

                And that's all tied in, obviously, to our transfer to Afghan security that we look at down the road here.  One thing that's important is that we don't try to do that all in one shot.  That really occurs at the sub-district level.  

                It grows a little bit further in the ink blot.  Coalition forces, always in the overwatch position, to help ensure as part of that transfer that there's not an opportunity for backsliding; that they do, in fact, have the strength and support to make it irreversible. 

                Q     What's the estimate about how much he's going to be able to -- what's your estimate about how much you're going to be able to transfer, you know, in Helmand by next July, to pick a month? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  I can't imagine where you'd pick that month from, but the -- (chuckles) -- actually, we -- I would say, you know, it's very difficult to quantify that because I really do see the transfer of authority to the Afghan forces occurring -- or not transfer of authority, but just transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security forces occurring at that sub-district level. 

                So you'll see the district centers start to be transferred over where there aren't any coalition forces there.  You'll also see some of those surrounding areas, perhaps the areas where there's significant social activity like the bazaars, the idea being that we get the police into those areas, establish security with the army more in overwatch, continuing to press the insurgent activity further out -- outward, and then over time, being able to get the army more into a garrison response-type role. 

                So I'd be -- it would be tough to quantify that in terms of exactly how much to be done by then.  I can tell you there are, you know, small areas that the police are really kind of on their own now without a formal acknowledgment. 

                One of the things that I guess just from our perspective is, we try not to identify too much of that too overtly because, frankly, it then sets them up to be targets. 

                And so I think, you know, as they go through that nascent stage of bringing things together, we just kind of let it start happening. Ideally I'd like to just have the insurgents wake up one day and realize that they've lost and that, you know, local security forces have in fact established security throughout the area. 

                Q     General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America.  We've seen a couple of reports that your friends in the Army over in Kandahar are doing things differently than they were done in Helmand, specifically in Marja, because what you had in Marja was a kind of a big splash, we've taken the town, and then a long period where things didn't go so well or didn't improve very quickly. 

                So what lessons do you think that the entire force should be taking from Marja as you move into Kandahar and other areas? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Well, I think one of the biggest lessons we all learned out of that was just perception management.  It's one of those things that -- and I -- you know, I guess we could throw that out as far as the international perspective and all of that, but more importantly I think is perception of the people, because the people truly are the prize in the counterinsurgency fight.  And in fact, when you make the perception of something happening, then, you know, basically they expect that to happen and want you to live up to it. 

                So I think that lesson came out of it.  Obviously, we see it applied elsewhere throughout all the operations, to include subsequent operations in Helmand.  It wasn't necessarily wrong at the time.  I will also tell you that, you know, there were some very important operational advantages we achieved by doing that.  Nothing's perfect, I would say, in terms of information management that way. 

                However, at the same time, you know, I think it's also important to note that in this environment, things change about every three months, the situation is almost different.  So the way that we apply some of these lessons to learn has to be pretty sophisticated and can't necessarily be a cookie cutter, because of geographical differences, tribal differences, time; as I said, every three months or so I really see it as a different battlefield.  So those are all factors that tie in to that.  

                And I guess that's how I would kind of tell you that you can't make a direct correlation between Marja and Kandahar, but there are some foundational things, obviously, that we try to learn from everything that we do. 

                Q     You spoke about local Afghans becoming fed up with the role of the insurgency and actually trying to sort of organize themselves to repel them.  Can you give a few more details of that or elaborate on that a bit?  And I had a follow-up. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Sure.  You know, my perspective, I've traveled all through the province here and had a lot of time talking with local elders and with families and everyone.  And the bottom line is that the Afghan families here are no different than any other family around the world.  You know, they want to be able to live their life safely. They want to be able to send their kids to schools.  They want to be able to have some -- you know, for their children, just to have them be a little bit, perhaps, better off in life a little bit later on down the road, that kind of thing.   

                So a lot of those things that we all value, you know, just as people and families is the same thing that they value.  So when we start coming into situations where the Taliban starts doing things like -- well, one of the more nefarious things that we've seen here recently is using children on the battlefield, to where we've had instances of Taliban shooting weapons at us while holding a child in front of them. 

                We've had instances where they've been using, either through coercion or force, to have children implant IEDs.  We've had situations where they've egressed away from an IED as we start to come after them, when they've started to plant one, and have a bunch of kids then block, you know, our line of sight to engage them with weapons. 

                All of these kinds of things that, frankly, the local population looks at just like as we do, looks at it as a terrible way to do things, and frankly, just refuse to accept it.  They also see that the Taliban base most of their finance and most of their activity on the drug situation, which obviously is very much against the Islam faith. They see them using mosques to hold weapons and endanger mosques, you know, with their activities by trying to go into those.  They force families -- they'll go into compounds, force the family to stay in the compound knowing that the coalition perhaps will shoot on the compound, to create that frequent civilian casualty situation that you see. 

                So there's all of those kinds of things that they're doing that frankly, the population just is tired of and refuses to accept.  So consequently, in places like Marja where we've now got, I would say, about eight of the blocks, you know, literally almost a third of the territory in there, that has come up to say, yes, we want local defense initiatives so that we can stand up against the Taliban. We're tired of this and we're tired of the way that they treat our people.  And in this case, they're particularly tired of the Taliban that come from out of area, which again ties into that big-T/little-t Taliban situation that I described earlier. 

                COL. LAPAN:  (Off mike.) 

                Q     Could you just elaborate a bit more on the local defense initiatives and these efforts to sort of have local militia or local police for -- on a small scale?  Are those -- or what stage are those efforts at?  You just mentioned those. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Well, there's a couple of different programs out there, and they've migrated through time.  You know, the big concern is to make sure, obviously, that militias don't be -- that militias are not stood up.  Governor Mangal, the provincial governor, is very sensitive to that, as is President Karzai.  So they've been slow in evolving; first, kind of starting out as a -- literally, just a neighborhood watch, without arms or anything else like that, but just to provide information and notify either coalition or, even better, ANSF forces when there's a -- some kind of a problem. 

                What we've gone to now is the Afghan Local Police Initiative. That is the one that is most current.  That actually provides for a -- it's a program whereby local individuals are put through some initial training by special operations forces.  They then are organized.  They sign an oath to the government.  They sign an oath to stay within their area -- in other words, they can't go outside of that area to protect others.  They then are designated and paid by the district chief of police, so that they do actually fall under the police hierarchy.  And then they're also provided weapons and armband-type designations to identify who they are.  And then that way, they have more than just a nightstick-type thing in order to effect security in the areas -- in their communities that they're designated for. 

                The program really seems to add a lot -- have a lot of interest. It is a very powerful tool, I think, for the local people to feel empowered about their own safety.  And obviously, having a direct linkage in to the police and to the official government, which is obviously the very important part to make sure that it is, in fact, under the governmental control and not a militia-type force. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Luis. 

                Q     General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. 

                How would you categorize Nawa and Garmsir?  Are they in the whole moving-to-build phase?  And if so, do you really need the force levels that you have there right now, or do you go down in force levels and use them elsewhere? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  I view Nawa and Garmsir as our two most mature districts, frankly.  They both are -- I would definitely say that Nawa is in the hold-and-build phase.  Where Garmsir -- for those that aren't familiar with it, Garmsir literally is a very long -- geographically long area.  It runs the entire -- almost the entire Helmand River Valley, from the central area down to the southern area.  So I would characterize that in various stages. 

                The northern Garmsir area is in the hold phase, I would say at this point, moving into the build phase.  However, we just did some major -- down in southern Garmsir, the very southern end, we just cleared Safar Bazaar down there just two months ago in a very kinetic fight.  So obviously that's just still in the clearing phase.  So rather than being able to put it in either category, I would say that you'll see the full range -- not the full range, but the range from the hold phase all the way through -- down through the clearing phase in the southern part for Garmsir. 

                Within Nawa, you know, examples of building is the fact that they've got solar-powered street lights in the bazaar now.  They've got a brand-new district center.  They've got a brand-new health clinic.  They've got a very viable wheat seed program, which has been -- Governor Mangal, with his Food Zone program, has spread throughout the area. 

                From a security perspective, if you flash back to last year, you are hard-pressed to find any poppy in Nawa.  Everything was wheat or legume crops, things like that.  So those are some of the indicators, I guess, of how I would characterize that. 

                As far as the forces that are there, again, we've just taken our time with that.  We're not in a hurry at this point to  -- you know, diminish the security forces there.  We have been more and more increasing the viability of the Afghan forces within Nawa, in particular.  There we had a strong army unit that's doing well.  We had some difficulty with the leadership in the police there.  We were able to make that change, and now the new district chief of police is doing tremendous work and mobilizing that force and kind of filling the gap that was there. 

                So again, as you look at the security forces and development projects and governance for each district, it's not all going to be at the same level at the same place at the same time.  But in this case, I think Nawa, across most of those lines of operation, if you will, they -- they're moving along quite well and I would envision that probably being our most opportune district in terms of transfer of security authority and getting more towards an autonomous or just a normal level of activity for governance and development. 

                COL. LAPAN:  One last question. 

                Q     General, it's Al Pessin from VOA again. 

                I wanted to ask you about two things that have been in the news in the last week or so.  One is the court rulings on "don't ask, don't tell" that invalidated and then reinstated the policy.  Was that noticed out at the FOBs and COPs in your region?  And if so, did it create any disruption or any confusion? 

                And then, the other is the WikiLeaks documents that talked about U.S. forces in Iraq perhaps not doing enough to stop prisoner abuse by Iraqi forces.  I want to know if you have any concerns about how Afghan forces treat their prisoners.  And what are your orders to your Marines if they become aware of any abuses? 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Okay.  Well, I'll start with the "don't ask, don't tell."  The -- really, here down on the ground level here in Afghanistan, there is no impact at all.  I think it's safe to say that most of the Marines and sailors of all -- Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen that I have underneath my charge really are not that aware of a lot of the dialogue that's going on.  You've got to remember that most of my Marines are living in 15-man patrol bases where they're lucky to have some running -- some fresh water, you know, in terms of a pump, or some kind of shelter over their head beyond a tent.  So as a result, they are not that -- I would say there's not that much information that's coming down to them. 

                And I also don't know that they necessarily would take it as problematic in terms of the dialogue.  They understand that, as Marines, we'll follow the -- whatever laws are in place, and also whatever policies are promulgated by the Secretary of Defense.  So really, basically, we'll follow, you know, whatever policy is promulgated there and move on. 

                As far as the WikiLeaks, that really has had no impact at all on us.  Frankly, I personally just read about it in the news, but have not, you know, even visited the website or anything like that.  So I'd say it's no impact from that. 

                And getting to the prisoner situation, that -- we closely monitor the taking of detainees.  We don't maintain any long-term detainees here within the field forces.  They're allowed to keep them for 96 hours, and then we move -- if they need to be detained beyond that point, we'll move them up to a regulated detention facility that has longer-term capability, that are run by coalition forces. 

                We do -- because we're closely aligned with our Afghan partners, we do have visibility of the detainees that they take as well.  There have been very minor instances where we didn't feel as though they were treating the prisoners correctly.  And the Marines have orders to intervene, frankly, and stop that immediately.  And once they stop that, they then try to educate the -- whether it be a police officer or an Afghan soldier, educate them on the proper way to conduct detainee operations.  And that seems to have worked very well.  Most of them, frankly, don't understand all of the rules and regulations associated with that, so the Marines end up providing the mentorship to them, just like they do for combat operations or for patrolling or anything else.  We just view that as part of our responsibility to create them as a respected and viable force within the community. 

                COL. LAPAN:  Okay, thanks, General Osterman.  I'll send it back to you for any closing remarks you'd like to make. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Well, just very quickly, I'd like to, first off, in particular with the casualties that we took in Sangin, express my condolences to the families who incurred those casualties.  We as a family out here obviously feel great sense of loss as well. 

                The other thing that I'd like to do is really tell the American people back there just what a great job all of their Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen are doing out here.  I really call it being a sophisticated Marine.  We have young -- young troops out there who aren't much more than 19 or 20 years old.  They're doing everything from teaching classes to helping with governance to working microeconomics, and it really is astounding to watch the kinds of things that they're doing and what they're capable of.  So I think everybody back home can be exceptionally proud of the work that's being done here and know that, for the sacrifices that we're all making, that great progress is being made, at least here in the Helmand River -- excuse me, the Helmand province. 

                COL. LAPAN:  General, thanks again for your time.  Sorry about the technical delay that kept you a little bit longer than we planned, and it's good to see you again. 

                GEN. OSTERMAN:  Not a problem.  Murphy well at work, and this is all part of the battlefield friction.  We're doing fine with it. 

                Thanks for the opportunity today.  I appreciate the questions. 

                COL. LAPAN:  All right.  Thanks, guys.

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