February 9, 2010

From the Front: 02/09/2010

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

A World of Troubles:
Second American reportedly kidnapped in Baghdad - Another American was reportedly kidnapped in Baghdad yesterday according to unnamed U.S.G. sources, and yet to be confirmed by the U.S. military or major news agencies. This follows a splinter group of the Mehdi Army claiming responsibility for the Jan. 23 kidnapping of an Iraqi-American marked by the release of a video. Apparently the man, a U.S. military interpreter, was visiting family in the Karada neighborhood when he was taken. The fact that the 60-year old man was last seen on Jan. 23 and the Pentagon released the first official news of his disappearance 12 days later indicates there may not be any official confirmation of this second kidnapping for some time. Of course it may or may not be true. But some Americans in Baghdad want to believe it. The resentment over the stovepipe existence and armored convoys that exemplify life on AID compounds and the Green Zone, have led to a deep cynicism about the future of Iraq, and a need to justify all these security measures. (READ MORE)

Michael Yon: Special Delivery - Kandahar, Afghanistan - 08 February 2010 - American troops are spread widely across Afghanistan. Some are remote and accessibility is difficult. In 2008, I was with six soldiers in Zabul Province who didn’t even get mail for three months. They had no email. They were on the moon. Six courageous men, in the middle of nowhere, and their nearest backup was a small Special Forces team about five hours away. Resupply to these small outposts is crucial, difficult, and would require major effort by ground. Enter the United States Air Force. Tonight’s mission was to fly from Kandahar Airfield (KAF) to Bagram Airfield (BAF), pick up specially rigged bundles of fuel and ammunition and parachute those to American forces up near the border of Turkmenistan. The aircraft would be a C-130J. The C-130 variants have been around so long that Captain Fred Flintstone may have been the first pilot. They’ve seen more than fifty years of service. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan MY Last Tour: Tea and Coffee - Last night it snowed all night and in the morning we had about an inch of fresh snow. I followed someone else’s footsteps for my morning trek to the latrine. Later in the morning the fresh snowfall would melt creating slushy conditions. On the camp, we are fortunate to have a bed of gravel around the b-huts and walking paths. In fact, it seems like the whole camp is a gravel pit that was spread out evenly and then structures were placed on top of it. The gravel allows the snow to melt easier and due to the drainage, we don’t have large puddles of standing water. Outside the camp is a different story. Slush and mud best describes the terrain in ANA land. Today was a real treat and I had an opportunity to see my ANA Sgt Major. He has been gone for quite awhile. His wife needed some medical treatment and he took her to Pakistan for surgery. This seems to be a common occurrence here. (READ MORE)

The Canada-Afghanistan Blog: In Holland - Wow; the Dutch are more positive on their deployment than I had thought. Their parliament has already voted against keeping troops there past 2010. I wonder what assets the Dutch are planning to leave behind in Uruzgon; this will be something to watch. Surely they wouldn't be so irresponsible as to just pull everything out after years of building up experience and relationships there--no serious country would do that while our Afghan and NATO allies are still engaged in the fight. “People in the Netherlands are split on their support for the country’s military mission in Afghanistan, according to a poll by Maurice de Hond. 49 per cent of respondents endorse the Afghan commitment, whereas 45 per cent do not. [...] Dutch voters renewed the Second Chamber in November 2006. The governing Christian-Democratic Appeal (CDA)—led by current minister president Jan Peter Balkenende—secured 41 out of 150 seats. In February 2007, a coalition encompassing the CDA, the Labour Party (PvdA) of Wouter Bos, and the Christian Union (CU) of Andre Rouvouet was assembled.” (READ MORE)

Castra Praetoria: On military blogs and social media - What is the impact of social media? Do military blogs shape how we view our military and current conflicts we are engaged in? Does it affect the way we communicate? How about the way we write? I haven't the faintest idea. But I know someone who is trying to find out. Patrick contacted me recently with some questions about military blogging and my thoughts on my writing. He also contacted about 70 other military bloggers and has only received about 10 replies. This weak response was unsatisfactory to America's 1stSgt so I asked Patrick to put something together I could use to post today. From what I can tell Patrick is researching something no one has seriously looked into before. I'll let him explain: “My name is Patrick Thomas, and I am a doctoral student in the Department of English at Kent State University. Currently, I'm conducting research for my dissertation on the role of blogs as alternative sources of information about the War on Terror, and more specifically, the writing that soldiers do through blogs-the ways in which soldiers use blogs, their motivations for writing on blogs, and how blogs have changed the nature and function of military communications.” (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Who Fought the War--And Is Back to Work - Spc. Brad Powers has a new job--already. While many members of Task Force Diablo are taking a well-deserved rest, the restless Powers is beginning a new job and a new career simultaneously. In Iraq, Powers was a wheeled-vehicle mechanic in Echo Company. We were in fourth squad of the motor platoon. At various times I was Powers team leader and squad leader. At Fort Sill, Powers was also in my remedial PT (Physical Training) group. The 27-year-old Lancaster resident is big, strong and went to enough parties before mobilizing that he was marginal on passing the two-mile run. No one was happy in the remedial PT group--the training was Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday from 7 to 830 pm--but Powers never complained in my hearing. And like all but one of my remedial group, Powers eventually passed the PT test. All the time we were training in Fort Sill and Kuwait and working in Iraq, Powers was taking college courses. (READ MORE)

In the NARMY now: Bored - I was bored tonight, which is a good thing, so I emailed our meteorologist out here and got the weather statistics for my entire deployment here and I figured I would share them with you all. (I know it's not really that interesting, but hey, at least a month didn't go by in between posts) The average temperature for the deployment was 81 degrees. The hottest month was August with an average temp of 100 degrees. The hottest day that month got up to 124. The coldest it got that month was 89. The coldest month, was January, with the coldest day reaching 28. The hottest it got in January was 68. So as you can see, although the summer was extremely hot, there are still seasons here and it actually gets pretty damn cold. Personally, I was lucky enough to work the night shift the entire deployment, thus not having to subject my body to most of that extreme heat (although nighttime was no picnic either). (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: The Communist Perspective - Today is February 8, and to a lot of Iraqis, this is a sad day in the country's history. This is the day that Abdul Karim Qassem was killed by the Baathists and Arab nationalists. A friend who is a communist said this is a very sad day for him. To him, Qassem was a decent man who was not corrupt at all, and he was a man who looked after the interests of the average Iraqi. Abdul Karim Qassem came to power in 1958 in a coup that led to the deaths of the royal family. Most communists don't like to admit that the royals were murdered and had their corpses dragged through the streets, but that's how it was. This friend says Qassem built affordable housing for Iraqis is the neighbourhood now called Sadr City. When Qassem built it he called it Revolution City. Qassem did not own a house or a palace like Saddam did. Qassem's family did not benefit from his rise to power. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Women and PTSD - In today's L.A. Times, there's an article about unequal treatment or access to treatment for PTSD in women veterans and soldiers. I know that in our years of private practice, often we saw women who overlooked depression and anxiety disorders within themselves. These often were manifested by eating disorders, compulsive spending habits, delaying treatment, a sense of hopelessness and social isolation. Of course, it's a vicious cycle. Someone extremely under or overweight, or living with a constant level of anxiety will experience related physical problems. Not feeling well affects one's mental outlook as well. I think to an extent, there was also a social component in this: women are expected to muddle through even the worst of times. We are the caretakers, and often we put the needs of others above our own. I will never forget the 27 year old mother who had a lump on her back for years. She had a baby, and there were complications. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: War and the Art of Waiting - This morning I was awakened by crashes of thunder & lightening. Then a downpour so loud, the rain hitting the awnings made such a racket it was pointless to go back to sleep. I decided to look for a radar map --lo and behold the red cell was just above. I cruised over to Facebook. There was a message from a friend. She hadn't heard from her Marine, and her comfort level was being stretched. I remembered what the writer Frank Schaeffer wrote me: "no news is good news." Despite the fact that The Hubs is stateside (for a bit), war has left me with an ineffable wallop, as if I've been punched in the gut. It's like always having an odd taste in my mouth: no matter how many times I brush my teeth or gargle, no matter how many mints I pop, it's still there. There are also times when I have to remember to breathe. Maybe it's because of my age, I feel like all of those men and women are my kids. Like you, I want them home. Like you, I wait. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani military claims success in Bajaur - The Pakistani military is claiming success in one of the Taliban's strongholds in the tribal agency of Bajaur. The military is advancing through the Mamond region in Bajaur, an area that has served as the headquarters for Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Mamond has also served as a safe haven for al Qaeda and the Swat chapter of the Taliban. Two of the three recorded Predator airstrikes carried out by the US targeted senior al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, in Damadola in Mamond. The military has relied heavily on air and artillery strikes to root out the Taliban. According to press reports from Pakistan, 139 Taliban fighters and only two soldiers have been killed since the fighting began in late January. The military claimed that 90 percent of Bajaur has been cleared of a Taliban presence, while the town of Damadola, Faqir's seat of power in Mamond, and the Taliban center of Sewai are under its control. The military has established checkpoints in the region. (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Starting the Final Push - I'm back in Baghdad again, starting my final stint in the country. The R&R trip was just what I needed: a break from the grind, a re-acquaintance with home, and a reminder of what's important. The trip took 36 hours from home to barracks. The flight from Asheville to Charlotte was delayed a half hour due to weather. The flight from Charlotte to Dulles was delayed a half hour due to weather. The flight from Dulles to Kuwait was delayed 2 1/2 hours due to really bad weather: snow was coming down so hard that they had to de-ice the plane, and we were at the end of a very long line of planes. I had a window seat, which meant that I had something to lean against so I could sleep once we were in the air. Unfortunately, once I woke up, there was nothing to look at: there were solid clouds all the way from Dulles to southern Iraq. It only cleared up as we entered Kuwaiti airspace and by then it was dark. Bummer. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Correcting the Record - An Open Letter to all Journalists and Pundits Covering Operation Moshtarak in Marjeh, Helmand: When the Marine Corps spearheaded a massive new operation to retake parts of Central Helmand Province last year, there was little mention in the press about how common such offensives were. In just one area, Garmsir, it was the third year in a row a major influx of troops had to “liberate” the hapless locals from Taliban control. Neither of the campaigns last summer, Operation Panther’s Claw, or Operation Khanjar, depending on whose military you followed at the time, was the largest nor the most geographically extensive the region had seen. In 2006, Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar, and Zabul saw Operation Mountain Thrust, an 11,000 man campaign to remove the Taliban from selected areas. So while it’s wonderful to hear the pretty words ISAF’s various officials say about the possibly in-progress operation in Marjeh (or Marja, Marjah, or Margah, depending on the transliteration scheme), it is important to remember that ISAF and U.S. forces are not strangers to this place. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: “Stay in your homes,” they say - I guess the Taliban never hide in homes and use the people inside as civilian shields? That is the assumption behind the latest confusing and contradictory ISAF press release about the Marjeh Offensive: “In anticipation of operations in central Helmand, a variety of organizations and individuals, including combined force commanders, have been paying close attention to civilian movements. Commanders in the area are reporting no significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the last month. Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area, the facts on the ground do not support these assertions. Current estimates are that fewer than 200 families have left Nad-e Ali since Operation Moshtarak was announced. Combined force commanders are encouraging civilians to remain in the safety of their homes. Every effort is being made to ensure minimum disruption to the residents during the operation.” (READ MORE)

Zombie Killer 6: Security Force Assistance Nirvanna - We've out doing what we do best over the last few days--which is training our companies and giving them tactical problems to deal with. Old Man Winter made his appearance here with a vengeance recently and we had the joy of taking the boys out in the snow. It made things interesting to say the least. Humping up and down the wadis was reminiscent of slipping and sliding around the red Georgia clay back at Ft Benning after a recent rain storm. Only here the precipitation was a bit on the cool side. That all being said the Afghans complained not one bit and shrugged off the cold. Today we take them through another round of planning drills and Troop Leading Procedures. While it's not the most "sexy" training we do, it is pretty important and it is an area where the Afghans have a lot of room to grow. Of course my favorite part of the day is eating Afghan chow with our ANA counterparts. While the menu is a bit redundant, I do enjoy the rice, stew and nan (flatbread). (READ MORE)

Six Foot Skinny: Short - It’s gotten cooler here. I guess it’s “winter.” I hesitate to call it winter when we occasionally have air temperatures (that means the temp without the wind-chill to those of you in southern climes) in double digits below zero back at home. I don’t miss that, but I promise I will do my best not to complain about it when I get home. Which is soon. We welcomed the change in weather here, because it means it’s just that much closer to the end. We won’t have to endure the cursed heat of this country again before we’re frozen in our tracks by the icy winds of Wisconsin. So winter here means low thirties in the morning, warming up to the low sixties by afternoon. I throw on an extra layer or two and I’m more than comfortable. We’ve even turned the heat on in the CHU a couple of times. Today the sky is as clear blue as it always is, little cotton-ball clouds hanging here and there, warm sun, cool wind. (READ MORE)

Sarah: Perspective, Revisited - On Thursday I went in for my 36 week appointment. I had a month left until my due date and my husband had finally gotten permission to come home in two weeks or so. Life was working out perfectly. And then the nurse told me I was very dilated and effaced and to expect the baby any day. I'm sorry, what? I called my mother who immediately started packing a bag to come be with me early. I called a friend to come stay with me through the night. I called my friend's mom, a nurse, and we decided I would put myself on bed rest. And then the phone rang and it was the FRG leader. She asked how I was feeling, and I replied, "Funny you should ask..." I launched into telling her what was going on, and we talked about how my husband was out on a mission and unreachable, and maybe her husband could find a way to contact mine and let him know what was going on. We talked about the possibility of my husband getting permission to come home even earlier. (READ MORE)

CounterInsurgency Center: Why is it Important to Talk to the Taliban? By Ali Iqbal - As an international military student in Fort Leavenworth, I am constantly exposed to public, US Government and international opinion on how to succeed/just stay afloat and not sink in the quagmire of that perilous place called "Afghanistan". Ranging from complex solutions like rebuilding the entire state on the western paradigm, to the irresponsible suggestion of adapting the "It is what it is" policy by creating "Chaositan" - they are all out there on the table. However, as already concluded by many intellectuals, the permanent solution to Afghanistan will be the solution which the Afghans want, not what we sitting many a mile away keep conjecturing about. The harsh reality is that the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated as the Taliban are continuously spreading their influence and cashing in on the frustrations of the people - an ideal force multiplier for the insurgents to leverage for furthering their designs. (READ MORE)

LTC John: The view from the Twilight Zone...looks OK - A report from the twilight - things look OK. I was at the Illinois National Guard Domestic Response Sourcing Conference this weekend, and what I saw was a vast relief to me. I guess, by way of some background information, I should explain... When I (and CSM Bones and the Inner Prop) left Afghanistan, I was almost frantic - I had offered to stay a bit longer to help with our replacement unit's transition. I was convinced they were not ready and events, sadly, showed this to be so. US Soldiers, Afghan civilians and others paid the price. When I got home I was crushed down by feelings that are hard to convey - inadequacy, remorse, and the like. And this past weekend, I feared that seeing the officers who be replacing me and my cohort would provoke the same thoughts. It was not a rational fear by any means - I had seen nothing to make me think thusly. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Covering for the Rules of Engagement? - It is important to recall the incident in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan that occurred approximately five months ago in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman were killed in an Ambush. They twice requested air support and artillery, only to be twice denied it from hundreds of miles away because noncombatants may have been in the area. Taking a slight detour back to General McChrystal’s tactical directive, the new rules place a premium on protection of the population, even to the extent of backing away from fire fights if it is possible that noncombatants will be involved. In McChrystal’s own words, “If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.” I later predicted as a result of the investigation conducted as part of the follow-on to this incident: (READ MORE)

Cool, Calm & Collected: Anniversary #3 - For real? I can't believe it's been three years since Jim went to heaven. I remember thinking the day he died that I was surely soon to follow. There was no way I could survive life like this. And then a month went by... And then six months... And then a year... And then two... And now here we are, three years later. I did make it. I didn't think I could, but God showed me his grace to get me through the extra-rough days, and he also taught me to have grace with others. Sometimes people didn't understand what I was going through, and they really did just want to help. And in doing so sometimes they said some silly things. I finally learned to smile and think to myself "Thank God they don't know what it's like. I'm happy they don't understand." I know who my true friends are. I know my family loves me. I know I have an awesome church family. I know I serve one very great God. And I know that "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
A Well-Written War, Told in the First Person - Brian Turner was focused on staying alive, not poetry, when he served as an infantry team leader in Iraq. But he quickly saw that his experience — “a year of complete boredom punctuated by these very intense moments” — lent itself to the tautness of verse. The result was a collection called “Here, Bullet,” with a title poem inspired by Mr. Turner’s realization during combat patrols that he was bait to lure the enemy. (READ MORE)

Tony Blair attacks hunt for Iraq 'scandal' - FORMER British prime minister Tony Blair has lashed out at the hunt for a "scandal" and a "conspiracy" over his controversial decision to back the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Speaking 10 days after he gave evidence at Britain's latest inquiry into the war, Blair told US broadcaster Fox News that Britons had a "curious habit'' which meant they could not accept others might hold different views. (READ MORE)

Jack Straw returns to the Iraq Inquiry - Sir John Chilcot now brings to a close the second round of public hearings. He says the inquiry is designed to "establish a reliable account" of the war in Iraq and "identify lessons" that could be learnt from the handling of the invasion. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
In Northern Iraq, a Vote Seems Likely to Split - There was a hope, not long ago, that democracy would mean peace and stability for Nineveh, a place where cultures and armies have clashed since biblical times. Instead, democracy is hardening divisions — of people, of resources, of land — in ways that threaten the future of Iraq itself. Last year’s election of a new provincial governor and council spawned political deadlock, inflamed by ethnic tensions. (READ MORE)

Gates quietly draws more allied troops for Afghanistan effort - In many ways, it was a familiar scene: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in Europe, meeting with U.S. allies about the war in Afghanistan. But something was missing. Gates, during a weeklong tour, did not plead with his European counterparts to send more troops. (READ MORE)

Gates works to fine-tune mix of troops in Afghanistan - In many ways, it was a familiar scene: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in Europe, meeting with U.S. allies about the war in Afghanistan. But something was missing. For once, Gates during a weeklong tour did not plead with his European counterparts to send more troops to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Thousands Flee Ahead of NATO Offensive in Southern Afghanistan - NATO commanders in Afghanistan say a planned military offensive in a southern Taliban stronghold is meant to defeat the militants and win the support of the population. U.S and British troops are set to launch what has been described as one of the biggest anti-Taliban offensives of the eight-year-old war. (READ MORE)

Refugees flee to capital of Helmand to avoid huge Nato Afghan offensive - As British troops count the hours until the start of the largest Nato offensive since the US-led invasion of 2001, Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, is witnessing the arrival of a grim procession of frightened refugees desperate to escape the battle. (READ MORE)

Marines focus on civilian safety in Afghanistan - Heading into battle to seize a Taliban stronghold, U.S. Marines are keenly aware of one factor that could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: Afghan civilian casualties. Deaths of noncombatants in clashes involving Western troops and insurgents are one of the bitterest points of contention between President Hamid Karzai and his foreign allies. (READ MORE)

Analysis: suprise attacks not in vogue - The element of surprise is usually a precious asset to a commander preparing for a military offensive. Why then have Nato commanders in Afghanistan chosen to mount a dedicated publicity campaign announcing the coming spring offensive, Operation Mastarak? (READ MORE)

In southern Afghanistan, even the small gains get noticed - Four of the Army's hulking mine-resistant armored vehicles had just been bombed into submission. They stood immobilized off of Highway 1, southern Afghanistan's most important thoroughfare, at the point where an earlier bomb had blown out the asphalt, forcing traffic to bypass through the dirt. (READ MORE)

U.S. Enlists Ex-Foes for Afghan Army - The fledgling Afghan National Army has been created from scratch by the U.S. and its allies. But, at least in its senior ranks, it increasingly resembles an Afghan army of old—one the U.S. helped rout two decades ago. The Afghan government is dominated by former mujahedeen guerrillas; both the minister of defense and the army chief of staff are former anti-Soviet insurgents. (READ MORE)

Legion Academy gives Afghans a crash course in fighting war - Staff Sgt. Jacob Moss surveyed the desolate expanse of dust, razor wire and dirt-filled Hesco barriers, and proclaimed: "This is my baby." Moss is a former bull rider who dreams of opening a microbrewery in Colorado when he leaves the Army. (READ MORE)

Afghan Official Held for Alleged Aiding Taliban - Afghan authorities said Monday they had arrested a district administrator who was allegedly feeding information to the Taliban on movements of Afghan and coalition forces in a northern part of the country where insurgent attacks have increased over the past year. (READ MORE)

British soldier deaths push Afghanistan toll ahead of Falklands - Three British soldiers have been killed by bombs in Afghanistan during the past two days. The deaths bring the number of British Service personnel who have died in the conflict to 256 — one more than died in the Falkland islands in 1982. (READ MORE)

Pakistani Military Retakes Key Town in Tribal Belt From Taliban - The Pakistani military has retaken the key town of Damadola, in the Bajaur area of the tribal belt, where the army has been fighting Taliban militants for more than a year, military and local officials said Monday. (READ MORE)

Gunmen Open Fire on Former Official in Pakistan - Three people were killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire at the election office of a former federal minister and opposition leader Monday evening in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, police and rescue officials said. (READ MORE)

Karzai demands halt to Afghan civilian casualties - President Hamid Karzai called on Sunday for a halt to military raids on Afghan villages by the international coalition forces and a complete end to civilian casualties. Civilian deaths and injuries inflicted during operations by international forces have caused deep anger among Afghans and analysts say they encourage people to join the Taliban insurgency. (READ MORE)

Karzai: Afghanistan may institute conscription - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday he is looking at instituting conscription to build an army big enough to provide security without international help. Karzai told a conference of the world's top defense officials in Munich that he wants to build and train an army and police force of 300,000 by 2012 that will be able to provide security for Afghanistan by 2015 without international help. (READ MORE)

Heroic dog to be honoured for finding bombs in Afghanistan - An Army search dog that has saved the lives of scores of British soldiers in Afghanistan is to receive the canine equivalent of the Victoria Cross, a media report said Sunday. Treo, an eight-year-old black labrador, has spent the past five years sniffing out bombs and weapons hidden by the Taliban, Daily mail reported on its website. (READ MORE)

Let Afghans run Afghanistan, Karzai urges - International forces should let Afghans run Afghanistan, helping them but not going over their heads to impose foreign solutions, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday. Karzai is supported by NATO and its allies, but their relationship has been soured by allegations of Afghan corruption and an Afghan perception that foreign forces are not giving primacy to the country's own authorities. (READ MORE)

NATO Says Russia, China Can Help in Afghanistan - NATO’s head said the alliance should become a global “hub” of security and look beyond Afghanistan, where he urged China and Russia to get more involved. “What could be the harm if countries such China, India and Pakistan and others were to develop closer ties with NATO?” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the Munich Security Conference today. (READ MORE)

Taliban make children plant bombs to thwart Army snipers - Boys as young as 12 are being used by the Taliban to plant bombs designed to kill and maim British troops in Afghanistan, a media report said Sunday. Army commanders say insurgents are forcing children to lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs) because they know they will not be shot by British snipers, Daily mail reported on its website. (READ MORE)

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