February 26, 2010

From the Front: 02/26/2010

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front. (New complete posts come in below)

Dispatches:
P.J. Tobia:
Multiple Explosions Rock Kabul - A complex attack is being mounted on the capital this morning, starting two hours ago at around 6 am local. The initial explosion appears to have been set off in the City Center part of town, about three blocks from Afghan Desk HQ. People in the area say that the attack was on the Safi Landmark Hotel and judging by the location of the smoke, this seems about right. The first explosion rattled windows in the neighborhood and sent a huge column of black smoke into the sky. It was followed by two smaller explosions. Sporadic gunfire is popping off in the streets around my home as I write this, though appears to be tapering off now. Today is the prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) birthday, a national holiday in Afghanistan. The area would normally be packed with people, but at 6 am on a holiday the streets are empty. The Safi is a modern hotel of glass and concrete construction with a roof-top restaurant and shopping mall on the first floor. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: Education & ANA Discussion – Part Two: - My conversation with the ANA soldiers continued. I relayed a conversation I had yesterday with the ANA Mullah about Taliban Mullahs; the ANA Mullah had told me the Taliban Mullahs are not really Mullahs and use this title to their advantage to control the uneducated followers and villagers. As such, out of fear and respect for the title, the people are easily influenced. Every week, coalition forces are capturing or killing Taliban Mullahs who are often serving as Taliban commanders or province shadow governors. Even the Pashtun ANA soldier I asked about agreed with this fact and said, “They are not Mullahs, they are only using the name of mullahs.” Running out of time, I opened up the floor so the ANA soldiers could address questions to me. Admittedly, it’s much easier to ask the questions than it is to answer them. But I was feeling self-confident and I was curious to see what they had on their minds. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan My Last Tour: SPC Kit Lowe Receives Bronze Star in D.C. - For gallantry and acts of heroism while performing combat advisory duties under enemy fire in the Shpee Valley, Kapisa Province (Regional Command-East) during Operation Brest Thunder. Spec Lowe demonstrated unwavering courage, exemplary professional skill, and daring initiative in the face of heavy enemy fire. His actions led to a life saving medical evacuation and another medical evacuation ensuring a fallen warrior’s remains did not fall into the hands of the enemy. His actions allowed supporting forces to locate and destroy over 20 enemy fighters including a senior Taliban commander. These acts of heroism and disregard for his own personal safety reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st squadron, 108th cavalry, and the United States Army. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: coordinated Taliban attacks leave 18 dead in Afghan capital - After more than a month of calm and on the morning of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, several Taliban suicide bombers in cars and on foot targeted two buildings in the Afghan capital often used by foreign visitors, killing as many as 18 people including an Italian, a Frenchman, ten Indians, and a Pakistani. According to witnesses, the bombers also used guns and grenades, and the attacks left eight Afghans including three police officers dead and some 40 wounded, and suggest that Taliban across the country have not been cowed by the ongoing coalition offensive in Marjah, in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. Operation Moshtarak in Marjah, nearly two weeks old, continues and the AP adds its analysis to those finding that the Afghan National Army is not ready to "go it alone". (READ MORE)

ANTONIO GIUSTOZZI: Don't Call That Warlord a Warlord - Afghanistan has been at war for much of the past 32 years -- hence the proliferation of warlords. Everyone from international pundits to local governors uses the term to discredit certain political factions or insult the "bad guys." Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, for example, is often described as a "warlord," but bad armed behavior does not a warlord make. More... In reality, the term has a specific and more useful meaning in the historical literature. It describes a charismatic military leader who, because of the weakness or absence of a state, ends up playing a political role, though he lacks political legitimacy. In Afghanistan, the two characters who best fit this definition are Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Ismail Khan. The former dominated northern Afghanistan between 1992 and 1997, re-emerging as a regional power after the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001. The latter ran much of western Afghanistan from 1992 until 1995, similarly returning to prominence after the 2001 invasion. (READ MORE)

David Bellavia: The Good Soldiers, the Bad… and the Victims of War - If you asked the general population to list the notable names from the GWOT, odds are that Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England would be atop the list. One is a hapless victim of circumstance and the other is a criminal who is famous for pointing to detainees’ genitals during the Abu Gharib scandal. Jessica Lynch was a member of the 507th Maintenance Company that was ambushed outside Nasiriyah in March of 2003 during the early stages of the Iraq war. Her maintenance unit had a series of avoidable circumstances that led to the capturing of Lynch and two other members of her unit. Formal reviews from the ambush revealed that almost all the weapons on the convoy malfunctioned due to the dust and grime of the desert environment. In combat this is without an excuse. No matter what the conditions are, your number one priority is to make sure your weapons systems and that of your subordinates are ready for the fight. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Suicide assault teams target foreigners in Afghan capital - A Taliban suicide assault team struck in the heart of a Afghanistan's capital, killing 17 people. Several suicide bombers begun their attack in the early morning at a guesthouse used by Indian Nationals that is located close to the Kabul City Center, a shopping mall, and the Safi Landmark hotel. One of the suicide bombers is said to have detonated outside of a guesthouse used by Indian nationals, which is thought to be the main target of the attack. Five Indian nationals are among those confirmed to have been killed, Quqnoos reported. Another suicide bomber detonated outside the Safi Landmark. The building was damaged in the attack. Other members of the suicide assault team then entered the shopping center and were engaged by Afghan police. Fighting was reported for more than two hours after the attack began. Two Afghan policemen were killed in the gunfight. The Taliban took credit for the attack. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Fedayeen-i-Islam commander thought killed in US airstrike - A top terrorist leader wanted by the US for attacking the consulate in Karachi in 2002 is thought to have been killed during an airstrike in North Waziristan. Qari Mohammad Zafar, the operational commander of the Fedayeen-i-Islam, is reported to have been killed in a US airstrike in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, Pakistani officials told Dawn. The US last hit the village on Feb. 18, and killed Mohammed Haqqani, a military commander in the Haqqani Network. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not confirm his death but said it was “possible” he was killed. “We’ve received some information that may verify the reports but we cannot be certain,” an official said. “It is possible but we cannot confirm. We’d like to check him off our list as he is dangerous.” Zafar is wanted by the US government for his involvement in the Karachi Consulate bombing in 2002, which resulted in the death of three Pakistanis and a consular official. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Using Google Earth and GPS to Track Afghanistan Cash - In Operation Moshtarak, the current NATO offensive in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, commanders have a powerful tool at their disposal: cash, and lots of it. According to Lindy Cameron, head of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team, the fighting is being quickly followed by “cash-for-work” programs meant to put local communities back to work, along with other reconstruction projects. Cash for work, however, has some risks of its own. The biggest potential problem is fraud, often in the form of the “phantom project” (a task that is never actually undertaken or completed) or the “phantom staff” (payrolls that are padded with no-shows). But tracking dollars in cash-for-work schemes is essential. As the U.S. Agency for International Development learned in Iraq, money spent unwisely on public works schemes can end up in the hands of insurgents. So how do you track cash-for-work in a place like Helmand, where fighting still rages? (READ MORE)

The Torch: Who Protects Civilians in Canada's PRT Post-2011? - The last time a military official talked about Canada's mission in Afghanistan, it was pretty clear: “‘For the Canadian Forces to meet the direction of the government to be out of Kandahar by December 2011, we must begin our planning now …. It is the end of the presence of Canadian Forces in Kandahar province and it is the end of the military mission throughout Afghanistan …. If PRT remain it will still be a team of civilian officials.’” Clearer still, now, is another couple of statements, one from the commander of Canada's Expeditionary Forces Command, the other from Canada's senior civilian on the ground in Kandahar - this, from the CanWest News Service (emphasis mine): “The general responsible for all Canadian troops overseas was emphatic this week that his forces will not provide security for Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City beyond next summer.” (READ MORE)

She of the Sea: Get Out Your Boards - Its PCS Bingo - Now that we've gotten through that little deployment thing, it is time for something that we all known and love: preparing to PCS. We are going overseas this summer and my mind is consumed with the million things that we must do before we go: overseas medical screenings, dealing with cars, clearing out stuff, and preparing our house to be rented. Just so this doesn't seem boring or scary, we're going to dig out our old friend, deployment bingo, and come up with a PCS version. The idea is simple: imagine a bingo card, and mentally fill in all the blocks with crazy stuff that could happen. I like to add a few happy blocks amongst the variety of negative things that immediately come to mind. Missing boxes, changed orders, and transportation mishaps are the first things I think of, but I bet that our readers have lots of ideas to fill in those squares. I'm pretty sure that we filled in a square today, when we decided, three months before an overseas PCS, that our dryer really wasn't working any more. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: A Poorly-Aimed Bill - Representative Bernie Sanders (D-VT) will soon introduce the "Stop Outsourcing Our Security Act" in Congress. The act would prohibit the use of private contractors for military, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and armed rescue functions. I think this bill is unnecessary and counterproductive. Below is an email that I just sent to my Congressman, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC): Dear Congressman: I am one of your constituents who is currently working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Baghdad, Iraq. Rep. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) will soon introduce the "Stop Outsourcing Our Security Act". The act would prohibit the use of private contractors for military, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and armed rescue functions. After having been in Iraq for 17 months now and counting, I see this Act as misguided. There are still lots of very valid reasons for using private security guards. (READ MORE)

Notes from Tommie: Annoyances - So I think that I have found some of the biggest things that aggravate me about the Army. The first would have to be incompetent leaderships and/or over confident leadership. So you’re a higher rank then me, way to go! You still can’t read basic documentation on how to properly execute the duties that your position fully entails. I don’t know everything about being an instructor operator; however, I can say without any doubt that not a single soldier will be recommended to fly, by me, unless I have faith that they can perform their duties safely and with confidence. My platoon sergeant seems to think that simply because he is a higher rank then me he cannot be wrong. It’s quite irritating. Not to mention that most of his rank was attained as an infantrymen and not an actual UAV operator. He simply overlooksthe fact that I am doing most of the paperwork and actually tracking the hours. When an O6 asks a question and I’m the one answering there might just be a reason to listen to what I have to say. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Finding Compassion by Pushing Through Fear - Since my husband and I started on this military path in full blown middle age, I've had a lot of assumptions smashed. Let's face it. I had loads of wrong impressions about soldiers based on stereotypes that looking at it now --are loaded with prejudice. There were times I was scorched, but I recovered. Before, full in the flush of my first 48 years, I could ignore the pain of every soldier and military spouse. I could decide not to learn how to get along with people who had opposite experiences, outlooks and even politics from mine. But that's no longer. I'm one "of them." But the best part? Their experiences makes me want to be a better person. Their pain? I share and carry it with me everyday. This pain makes me grateful for all the small things in life. But I also share in their triumphs --from deep bonds of brother and sisterhood, to seeing them helping the locals. It's been painful to hear the stories of those with PTSD. The upshot is that I get to meet people working to help them. (READ MORE)

Dude in the Desert: 26 Feb 10 - well, we’re getting closer and closer to leaving –can’t wait to get back on Black Betty… anyhoo, yesterday started out kinda early…it was a cloudy, rainy morning…we were waiting on the green light to go outside the wire…weather and MedEvac capabilities play a part in our “go/no go” status…we got all our gear together, checked out the trucks, had breakfast, got our coffee, did commo checks, and all was good to go… we had a mission to go look around and get some info on bad guys and whatnot…well, I single-handedly cut that mission short…as we turned into the muddy trails of our target village, I mad my way down a tiny little “road” and got to a point where there was a big wall on one side and a ditch on the other…the road was kinda slanted from the wall down to the ditch…as I tried to pass a narrow spot with the wall on the left and a washed out hole on the right the truck decided to slide sideways…I hit the throttle to punch past, but the tires just spun out and that was it… (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: Maliki's Panic Move - A lot of so-called experts are bound to comment on the last-minute move by the prime minister to rehire all the Saddam era army officers. Nouri Al Maliki approved the reinstatement of the officers, which will begin immediately. Certainly the rented experts will have all sorts of explanations of why Maliki would decide such a thing before the March 7 elections. And surely their takes will be interesting for all sorts of reason. But I thought I'd tell you what the Iraqis are saying. One of the reasons for the decision was mentioned in passing in the Ricks piece in the NYT a day or so ago. Ricks wrote: "A retired Marine colonel I know, Gary Anderson, just returned from Iraq and predicts a civil war or military coup by September." The words "military coup" are what have Maliki in a panic. Public opinion polls, though unreliable in the region, still indicate that Maliki will win. (READ MORE)

Trooper Pete Sheppard: Soldier's blog from Afghanistan frontline - We arrived back in Camp Bastion at supper time last night, having finished the first phase of Op Moshtarak. I'm part of the Squadron HQ element of the BRF, so we drove back to camp and arrived yesterday evening. The rest of the troops were still clearing out on the ground and didn't get back until late evening. The last 10 days have been hard work. The fields out on the ground are being irrigated at the moment so they are very boggy. Some of the guys were sinking up to their knees. Limbu, our friendly Gurkha from the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment (we call them 'Loggies'), stepped into a large muddy ditch waiting for the helicopter pick up. In the dark his section didn't notice him flailing around trying to get out. He tried to take his heavy Bergen off to pull himself out but only managed to plant his face into the mud! It took two guys to go back and pull him out. I wish I had got a picture of him caked from head to foot! (READ MORE)


News from the Home Front:
Dr. Biden Prepares Care Packages for Guard Families - Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, joined USO volunteers here Feb. 23 in putting together care packages for the families of 3,000 Florida National Guard servicemembers who will deploy in the coming weeks. (READ MORE)

Bobsledding Soldiers Turn to Four-man Event - As the four-man bobsled event draws closer here, Vermont National Guardsman and Army World Class Athlete Program bobsled pilot Sgt. John Napier said he feels more at home with WCAP brakeman 1st Lt. Chris Fogt in his Olympic four-man sled at the Whistler Sliding Centre here. (READ MORE)

Military Must Better Prepare Against Internal Threats, General Says - The Defense Department must “plan more diligently” and “seek to envision” internal threats to prevent tragedies like the mass shooting at Fort Hood last year from happening again, an independent military panel told Congress members today. (READ MORE)



News from the Front:
Iraq:

Iraq to Rehire 20,000 Hussein-Era Army Officers - The Iraqi government said Thursday that it would reinstate 20,000 army officers who served under Saddam Hussein, a surprising move given that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has focused his campaign in the coming parliamentary elections around denouncing the former Baath government. (READ MORE)

Iraqi journalist sees threats to press freedom - Before the U.S.-led invasion, billed as the liberation of Iraqis, newspaper journalist Nadjha Khadum was as close to a trailblazer in her field as the era permitted. (READ MORE)

Iraq Vote Will Have Presence Of Sunnis - A top Sunni political party on Thursday announced it would compete in March 7 elections, reversing a boycott pledge made last week by its leader, who was banned from running because of his alleged ties to the outlawed Baath Party. (READ MORE)

Key Iraqi Sunni Politician Decides Not to Boycott March Election - With a little more than a week before Iraq holds parliamentary elections on March 7, a key Sunni politician announced Thursday that he would not to boycott the vote and the government decided to allow members of Saddam Hussein's military to rejoin the army. (READ MORE)

Sectarian tensions rise before Iraq elections - A popular Sunni political party backtracked on Thursday from plans to boycott Iraq's parliamentary elections even as rivals threatened to have the party's leader charged with terrorism. (READ MORE)

1-36 Infantry Scout 'earning His Spurs' in Northern Iraq - In today's U.S. Army, the cavalry scout is considered the commander's eyes and ears on the battlefield. Scouts engage the enemy with anti-armor weapons on their scout vehicles in the field, track and report enemy movement and activities and direct the employment of various joint weapon systems against an adversary. (READ MORE)

Iraqi Forces Arrest 9 in Separate Operations - Iraqi police arrested nine terrorism suspects in combined operations with U.S. advisors in recent days, military officials reported. Police arrested three suspected terrorists yesterday in a rural area northeast of Baghdad during an operation conducted to capture a regional leader of Jaysh al-Mahdi, an Iranian-backed terrorist group. (READ MORE)



Afghanistan:
Four Indians among 15 dead as Taliban bombers storm Kabul - Four Indians were among the 15 people killed when heavily-armed Taliban guerrillas wearing suicide vests attacked a hotel and a guesthouse run by Indians in the Afghan capital Friday. (READ MORE)

Taliban bombers attack Kabul hotels, kill at least 15 - Taliban bombers equipped with suicide vests and automatic rifles attacked a hotel and a guesthouse in central Kabul Friday, killing at least 15 people, including four Indian nationals, officials said. (READ MORE)

17 dead in Afghanistan suicide attacks - Suicide bombers attacked in the heart of Kabul on Friday, triggering a series of explosions and gunbattles that killed at least 17 people in an area that`s home to small residential hotels used by foreigners, police and witnesses said. (READ MORE)

17 killed in Kabul suicide blasts - Deadly blasts targeting foreigners in the Afghan capital Friday killed at least 17 people and wounded many others. Authorities were trying to determine how many people died and the nationalities of those slain. (READ MORE)

Deadly Explosions Rock Afghan Capital - Afghan police say at least 17 people, including foreigners, have been killed in a suicide bombing and other explosions in the capital, Kabul. Investigators say at least 32 people have been wounded in the attacks that occurred near a nine-story shopping area and two residential hotels that are frequented by foreigners. (READ MORE)

Militants Kill At Least 16 In Attack On Central Kabul - At least 16 people have been killed and more than 36 wounded in a coordinated attack in the central, most fortified part of Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks targeting guesthouses, which it said were carried out by a group of five atackers, including suicide bombers. (READ MORE)

Suicide Bombers Kill Many in Afghanistan Capital Attack - At least 17 people have died in a series of explosions and gunfire in the Afghan capital, Kabul, officials say. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives and two other attackers were shot dead, a government official said, cited by the BBC. (READ MORE)

Taliban Claims Responsibility for Attacks - The Taliban are claiming responsibility for deadly suicide attacks that killed at least 10 people in the heart of Kabul. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Friday that five suicide bombers conducted the attacks on two buildings used by foreigners. (READ MORE)

Afghan capital rocked by deadly blasts - A series of deadly explosions has ripped through the Afghan capital, Kabul. A nine story shopping area and a hotel were severely damaged, while at least ten people were killed when the explosions were triggered by a suicide bomber. (READ MORE)

Blast Rocks a Prominent Hotel in Afghan Capital - Several suicide bombers attacked a prominent hotel and the surrounding area in the center of Kabul early Friday, the police said. One of the bombers detonated his vest, according to the police, who were still fighting the attackers 90 minutes later. (READ MORE)

Brazen Attack Kills 17 in Afghan Capital - The Taliban are claiming responsibility for deadly suicide attacks that killed at least 17 people in the heart of Kabul. In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he "strongly condemns" the terrorist attacks that targeted two guesthouses in central Kabul where most of the guests were Indian. (READ MORE)
Officials Fear 2 Dozen Afghan Police Officers Defected to Taliban - A group of about two dozen Afghan national police officers may have defected to the Taliban, according to American and Afghan officers here in Wardak Province. (READ MORE)

A military Rolls-Royce, but a political car crash - The death or capture of an enemy commander is always a big battlefield event — but rarely a decisive one. So the capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taleban’s top military commander, in a joint US-Pakistani operation announced eight days ago... (READ MORE)

Pakistan to deliver suspected insurgents to Afghanistan - The Afghan government said Thursday that Pakistani authorities have agreed to hand over several suspected insurgents whom Pakistan has taken into custody, including the Taliban's No. 2 commander. (READ MORE)

Pakistan Promise on Taliban No. 2 - Afghan officials said Thursday that Pakistan’s Interior Ministry had agreed in principle to hand over the No. 2 Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom the Pakistani intelligence services captured in Karachi in January. (READ MORE)

Can Afghanistan Taliban absorb blow to Quetta Shura? - From its perch in Pakistan, the Quetta Shura is said to act as a nerve center for all of the Afghan Taliban’s operations, formulating military and political strategy, appointing field commanders, and managing a shadow government. (READ MORE)

Skepticism Remains on Pakistani Anti-Taliban Efforts - The U.S. offensive in the Afghan town of Marjah coincides with new Pakistani moves against Afghan Taliban figures, which U.S. officials say aids counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. But there is still skepticism about Islamabad's depth of commitment to rooting out the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. (READ MORE)

Militants Strike Central Kabul, Attack Hotels - Taliban militants attacked a luxury hotel and two guest houses favored by foreigners in the center of Kabul early Friday, killing at least 17 people, including some foreigners, and injuring at least 32. (READ MORE)

Deadly Attacks in Kabul Strike at Foreigners in Guesthouses - At least 18 people, including French, Italian, Afghan and many Indian nationals, were killed on Friday in suicide and car bomb attacks on two guesthouses popular with foreigners in the center of Kabul, police officials said. (READ MORE)

Taliban defectors accept U.S. approach but wait for promises to be kept - As the Taliban commander in the Pusht-e-Zargon district of western Afghanistan, Abdul Wahab considered himself the law. A stolen sheep? He would choose the thief's punishment: often a gunshot to the forearm or calf muscle. He was careful to avoid the bone. (READ MORE)

Afghan Meeting in Marja Attracts 200 Residents - Meetings of influential villagers have outnumbered military engagements over the last few days in Operation Moshtarak in the central portion of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, military officials reported today. (READ MORE)

Afghan flag hoisted over Marjah for the second time - Helmand’s governor called on people to “come home” yesterday as officials hoisted an Afghan flag over a besieged town in Marjah for the second time in as many weeks. (READ MORE)

Afghan government raises its flag in Marja - The Afghan government laid symbolic claim to the former Taliban stronghold of Marja with a formal flag-raising ceremony Thursday and installation of a new civilian administration. (READ MORE)

As Fighting Eases, Afghans Plant Flag and Their Hopes in Marja - The black, red and green flag of Afghanistan was hoisted over the center of this onetime Taliban stronghold on Thursday, as Afghan officials symbolically claimed control after a major American-led military offensive. (READ MORE)

Marja Operations Move Toward ‘Holding’ Phase - Operations in Marja, Afghanistan, are transitioning from the clearing to the holding phase, as today’s turnover of the government center there marks a symbol of progress, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, Feb. 26 - An Afghan-international patrol found a weapons cache in the Reg-e Khan Neshin district of Helmand province yesterday. The cache contained eight 303mm rounds, seven AK-47's, a rifle, ammunition and an ammunition-filled vest. The cache was seized and will be disposed of at a later time. (READ MORE)

Quetta Shura may prevail despite arrest of 7 of 15 top Taliban leaders - After the arrest of seven of 15 top leaders of the Quetta Shura, the Afghanistan Taliban may have come under intense pressure, but the formation of other such terror council cannot be ruled out, the Christian Science Monitor reports. (READ MORE)

Lahore High Courts restricts Baradar's extradition to Afghanistan - The Lahore High Court (LHC) has restricted the Pakistan government from extraditing the top Afghan Taliban Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was nabbed from Karachi earlier this month, and four other Taliban commanders to any other foreign country. (READ MORE)

German parliament backs Afghan troop increase - The German parliament has approved plans to send up to 850 extra troops to Afghanistan. Lawmakers voted 429-111 with 46 abstentions Friday to increase the maximum number of German troops allowed to serve in Afghanistan to 5,350 from 4,500. (READ MORE)

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Crossposted at: Castle Argghhh!

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