April 1, 2010

From the Front: 04/01/2010

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

As Seen by a Rebel: Saying Good-bye - Yesterday, I attended my son-in-law's memorial service. It was in the Main Chapel at Fort Lewis - interesting, in and of itself, by it's diverse architectural features and decorative embellishments. It's been a long time since I set foot in a church, so I found myself looking around and drinking it all in. I went into the church early and found a spot at the outside end of a pew in the family section. I had my grandson with me, Joel's son. Orion is only 9 months old and it was his nap time. He was tired and overwhelmed by the number of people who just wanted to see him and touch him, a living link to Joel. Orion and I sat down in the quiet church, only soft piano music playing, and he took down a bottle and nestled into me. His little head pressed firmly against my heart, a tiny arm thrown up over my shoulder. He snored...quiet and steady. I felt a sense of peace for those 30 minutes that I hadn't felt in more than two weeks. (READ MORE)

Katherine Tiedemann: Daily brief: Afghan parliament rejects Karzai's electoral decree - Yesterday, the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament nearly unanimously rejected Afghan President Hamid Karzai's attempt to tighten his control over the country's electoral watchdog, after his February decree giving himself the ability to appoint all five members of the body. However, this significant rebuke to Karzai's power grab and signal of a more activist legislature does not necessarily mean the end of his decree: the upper house still has to vote. Karzai, meanwhile, is now claiming that U.N. and European Union officials interfered in last summer's presidential contest to cause "vast fraud" and force the elections to a runoff. The London Times writes that Obama administration officials have given up trying to persuade the Afghan president to force his controversial brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, out of power, after issuing an ultimatum last year to force the removal of the Kandahari leader. (READ MORE)

Headhunter: War in Review: SITREP 20100331 - As I have noted from other reports our ground combat forces are doing one hell of a job fighting a COIN (Counter Insurgency) and OTTW (Operations other Than War) fight. They are adapting and applying to the local situations in Afghanistan, the successful engagement policies and procedures that worked to turn Iraq from the ‘wild west’ to a center of gravity. The silence in the news is VERY good news since the mainstream media only report blood spilled. Sad to have to remind you, but don’t forget, that a ‘civilian’ casualty very often had a weapon in his hand before the reporter got there. That’s a standard tactic through out the fight from Indonesia, to Gaza, to Kandahar, and everywhere in between. That, and taking pot shots from schools, hospitals, mosques, and especially from behind terrified women and children. (READ MORE)

the semi-normal, day-to-day life of a female marine: Afghan Girl - Yes, I know, this isn't a female Marine. But the caption mentions female Marines working on a census in Afghanistan and I just like the photo so here it is: A young Pashtun girl watch smiles as US Marines hand out trinkets in her village March 11, 2010 in a hamlet near Khan Neshin in Helmand Province. Marines in the area have been assigned to help gather census data for planned Afghan government in the area, and female Marines are sent out on census-gathering patrols, as men cannot enter homes as easily in conservative Pashtun culture. (MORE)

Lance Corporal Katie Guntrip: 47 Air Dispatch (AD) - I am TA soldier on my first operational tour, currently deployed on a three month detachment with 47 Air Dispatch (AD) based in Kandahar. We are a crew of six Air Despatchers with seven local employees assigned to work with us. The Air Despatch role is used to supply vital stores, equipment, rations and water to ground troops who may be unable to be re-supplied by road or who require an urgent re-supply. The day to day job involves rigging the equipment, aircraft loading and flying on the air drop sorties. There are also other tasks that are completed such as vehicle and store management which are crucial to support our work. We work very closely with the RAF C130 Hercules crews and together we re-supply any military unit or service on the ground. The tour so far has been a relatively busy one. On top of our normal workload we were required to support Op Moshtarak by preparing 110 containers ready for airdrop over a 10 day period, working around 14-16hrs a day. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: The man who cares for goats - The Army has an unlikely secret weapon in the fight against the Taliban – a vet. It may not feature very highly in Nato's counter-insurgency manual but British forces have discovered that one way to triumph in the most vital battle of the Afghan war, winning over the hearts and minds of the local population, is through their goats and sheep. Capt Miles Malone, an Army vet, has been flown to an area recently retaken from the Taliban to offer treatment on the herds of the farmers. His work will take place alongside other, larger-scale initiatives such as the building of hospitals and roads. Such has been the benefit of Capt Malone's presence in Helmand that the post will now become a permanent one, with a replacement arriving when the officer leaves at the end of the tour. The numbers of vets in the battlefield may even be increased in the future. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Real Life After Travel and Deployment - On Monday night I got back from San Antonio after midnight. I started to unpack, did a load of laundry, took out the trash and watched TV before the buzz in my ears stopped and I could go to sleep around 230 am. For eight days I stayed in hotels, ate in restaurants, went to banquets, rode a rental bike when I wasn't working and generally was either working or exercising from morning till late at night. I have not seen "The Hurt Locker" but I am told the hero of the film goes back to Iraq after being bored and bewildered by life back home. It is different to ride in the back of a commuter plane next to someone nervous about a routine flight on a sunny day after riding behind the door gunner in a Black Hawk in a sand storm so thick that the helicopter we were flying with was all but invisible. Business travel has some of the unreality of deployment, although different. (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Taliban leader escapes ambush in Pakistan's northwest - A top Taliban commander in Pakistan's tribal belt survived an assassination attempt that killed four of his fighters. Maulvi Noor Jamal, the Taliban commander for the Kurram tribal agency who is also known as Mullah Toofan, narrowly escaped a roadside bomb attack and ambush while he traveled in Arakzai. Four of Jamal's fighters were killed and three more were wounded in the "ensuing melee,"Dawn reported. It is unclear if Jamal's convoy was attacked by a rival Taliban group, a tribal militia, or covert special operations forces. Taliban groups have fought local turf wars in Arakzai and Kurram over the past year. During the month of March, Jamal battled with a rival Taliban commander known as Rafique in central Kurram. Jamal and Rafique inked a truce on March 22. Jamal is known as a brutal and effective leader who is considered a a potential successor to Hakeemullah Mehsud, the overall leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Paksitan. (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: Time - So as you have noticed, I have been MIA (missing in action). I am having trouble prioritizing my time. Almost as if there isn't enough time in the day. I have bought a planner, but i cant live by it. I use my "Smart Phone" Blackberry, but i just dismiss the reminder when I am busy. Now I remember when my husband left for Iraq, I was wishing time would go by faster, I just never thought my wish would come true. 16 Days until my husband comes home on leave! 16 Days!! I honestly can't believe this time has came so quick. Back when it felt like forever, it was going by faster then I thought. But now I am asking for it to slow down!! I am working everyday now it feels. I finally have a Friday off this week, That's a first! So everyday I am trying to set my alarm to wake up early to go work out, but I hit snooze every morning because I feel as though I am not getting enough sleep. By the time I do wake up I have things I got to do... (READ MORE)

Michael J. Totten: Libya Lets Loose al-Qaeda - Libya just released 214 al-Qaeda members from Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. Seif al Islam, son of President Moammar Qaddafi, says hundreds more will be turned out soon, which will bring the number of freed Libyan terrorists up to almost 1,000. American and Israeli officials used to pressure Yasir Arafat into rounding up terrorists when he was Palestinian Authority president. He’d scoop up a couple of handfuls, announce the arrests to foreign journalists, then quietly let most of them go a few weeks or months later. Al-Qaeda, though, is much more dangerous than Arafat’s old PLO. Qaddafi has as much incentive as everyone else in the Middle East and North Africa to do something about them. That does not, however, mean he is actually being responsible. Reason magazine’s Michael Moynihan offers us a few clues as to what’s happening. Last month he wrote the best dispatch from Libya I’ve read in years... (READ MORE)

Ramblings from a painter: Thoughts on a Kindle - Well, I'm finally over my 9-day bout with Saddam's Revenge. The bug, whatever it was, is gone, and good riddance to it. I'm able to go jogging again, and yesterday I hit the gym for the first time in a week and a half. Today I'm a little stiff and sore ... but it's a good stiff and sore. The rain has gone, too, and the mud is pretty much dried out. Our weather has been alternating between cool enough for jackets and being a bit warm. Yeah, that's really specific, huh? Okay, to be more accurate, it's ranged from the upper 60's to mid-80's at the height of the day. Today is supposed to be in the upper 70's, and we're looking at 90 by Sunday. In other words, pretty perfect. As long as we don't get rain, that is. For some reason, we're in a "conserve water" mode. I don't know why. The vehicle wash racks have been closed, so we're driving around in beat-up filthy Suburbans that look like they haven't been washed in months. Actually, they haven't been washed in months. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Truly Head-Shaking – “PESHAWAR, Pakistan – The rugged Pakistani province that was once a stomping ground for the British, and more recently gained a reputation as a Taliban and al-Qaida haven, may soon get a mouthful of a new name. Feuding lawmakers on a committee reached a tentative deal Wednesday to rename North West Frontier Province ‘Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa,’ three members said.” Well, if we can ignore the AP keeping it classy by saying the only two things to have ever happened in the NWFP is the British “stomping” on it and some turbanned crazy people… this is kind of a big deal, and a good idea. Well, except the name. “Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa” seems custom-designed to make the U.S. really uncomfortable. Which is probably the point. Renaming the NWFP in some way to indicate it is the “homeland” of sorts for Pashtuns has been a long-term goal for the Awami National Party, a Pashtun nationalist party that helped the Pakistan People’s Party gain a majority coalition in Parliament in 2008. (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Some Tricky Numbers - The DEA is really pleased with itself: “Opium seizures in Afghanistan soared 924 percent last year because of better cooperation between Afghan and international forces, the top U.S. drug enforcement official said Thursday. The Taliban largely funds its insurgency by profits from the opium trade, making it a growing target of U.S. and Afghan anti-insurgency operations. Afghanistan produces the raw opium used to make 90 percent of the world’s heroin.” So, let’s crunch these numbers in a very basic way. Let’s assume that 2009 saw 100 tons of opium seized (this is very ballpark, since harvesting time and processing delays mean there is not a steady flow, but we’re remaining simple here). That would mean in 2008 they only seized around 9 or 10 tons of opium. Just for context’s sake, the UNODC estimated in 2009 that Afghanistan produced nearly 8,500 tons of opium for export. (READ MORE)

Andi: Homecomings and Root Canals: A Very Bad Combination - My husband finally made it home. I had only a few hours notice so, of course, the panic ensued. So did a raging toothache. There is nothing worse than a toothache. You can't eat solid food, you can't smile, you can't sleep through the pain. The constant throbbing and intense pain just doesn't subside until whatever is wrong is made right again by a dentist. I went to the dentist only to receive a referral to a specialist for a root canal. Yay! But nothing is ever easy, is it? I couldn't get the root canal until Monday, so the weekend was a complete disaster. Nothing like spending a homecoming alternating between extreme pain or deep slumber induced by pain meds and antibiotics. What a romantic, wonderful way to celebrate a homecoming! The important thing is that he's home safe and sound, but boy would I like a do-over.... (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Afghan War Has Created Some Unusual Bedfellows - There are what I see as four distinct political groups in western politics with regards to interventionist policy in Afghanistan. Each are interesting in their own way, and each believe that their reasons make the most sense both for Afghanistan and for their country. The first group would be the progressive leftwing movement that encompasses neo-feminists and leftists who believe that interventionism in the Middle East and Afghanistan is based cynically on geopolitical and economic self-interests, and that at the heart of the “occupation” of Afghanistan is an attempt to subvert Afghan culture through racist western hegemony. The second group would be the traditional leftwing movement that encompasses traditional feminists and more revolutionary socialists who believe in internationalism as being a primary ideology over relativism, and that Afghanistan is as much an important struggle in human rights and gender emancipation as was the civil rights movement. (READ MORE)

Nathan Hodge: Drone Wars: The Legal Debate Continues - Last week, the State Department’s top legal adviser laid out the administration’s case for using drones to fight al Qaeda and its allies. Now the drone war is starting to generate some real legal debate. In the new issue of Joint Force Quarterly, Amitai Etzioni, professor of international relations at The George Washington University, has a piece that outlines a moral and legal case for using drones to attack what he terms “abusive civilians” (his term for unlawful combatants). “To negate the tactical advantages abusive civilians have and to minimize our casualties, we must attack them whenever we can find them, before they attack us,” he writes. Drone strikes, he adds, “are a particularly well-suited means to serve this goal.” Etzioni’s article is a response, in part, to New Yorker correspondent Jane Mayer, who has documented the perils of what she calls the “push-button” approach to combating terror. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Taking The Initial Tourist Approach - I've been having an email conversation with Charlie Sherpa, who writes the blog Red Bull Rising. He's readying for a deployment. Charlie's posts about the preparations make for informative and compelling reading. Lately, we've been exchanging opinions on books. He wanted to know what I've read. I was grateful he asked, as I feel for the past year and a half, I've been somewhat of an autodidact trying to take in as much as I could about a land I'd never thought of before in my life. When I knew my husband was going downrange, I circled around the library a few times, trying to figure out what to read. Since I knew nothing about war, the military or Afghanistan, I decided to first find out about the country. So I decided to start off like a tourist being told she's leaving soon. But it's not that easy. You just don't go into Border's and ask if they have a guidebook to Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Two More Lessons from 'Three Cups of Tea' - This Red Bull Rising post is the third of three regarding Greg Mortenson's book, "Three Cups of Tea." Page-numbers, again, are from the 2006 Penguin trade-paperback edition. Two more lessons I derived from reading Mortenson's book, which regards the power of building non-religious coeducational schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, regard observations about how we fight. In one case, I'm talking about "We, the American people" and our allies. In another, I'm talking about "We, the American military." Bonus "Three Cups" Lesson No. 1: The bad guys are in it for the long haul--are we? Mortenson describes his despair at finding schools that teach Wahhabism--an extremist forms of Islam--sprouting up like weeds, potentially choking out his grassroots school-building efforts of his privately funded Central Asia Institute. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: And now, reporting from the other side of the fence... - Cory Anderson, foreign affairs advisor at the Kandahar PRT, in the Globe yesterday: “‘The Canadian Forces enjoy an intimate and comprehensive relationship with the National Directorate of Security on a daily basis related to all aspects of military operations and intelligence gathering, but refuse to wade into the one facet of that relationship where adherence to our international obligations is most at risk.’ The diplomat decried ‘endemic and systemic duplicity within the NDS, especially at the provincial level, that exists to this day, and renders it virtually impossible to have an open and transparent relationship with their officials on the ground in Kandahar.’” Always interesting to see the grass from the other side of the fence isn't it? Mr. Anderson's assessment of the NDS itself would not be too far from my analysis of the NDS officials I've met, but his assessment of our military relationship with the NDS is wildly at variance with the reality I observed, or any of my own encounters with NDS officials. (READ MORE)

David Axe: Taliban Radio - “We don’t own these mountains,” Staff Sergeant Russ Martin said, pointing to the peaks overlooking Forward Operating Base Joyce, in Afghanistan’s remote Kunar province along the Pakistani border. As if to underscore his point, on March 28 enemy fighters targeted a pair of U.S. Army patrols from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, peppering them with Rocket-Propelled Grenades and gunfire and wounding one soldier. It’s “Indian country,” another soldier said. So much so that even pro-Taliban propagandists operate with impunity. A man the Army calls Tommy Doula — forgive my phonetic spelling — runs his own Taliban call-in radio talk show using a 200-megahertz mobile transmitter that he sets up in the capillary valleys off the main Kunar valley. By the Army locates his signal, he’s already breaking down his gear and moving to the next location. “He dimes out people,” Major Bill Hampton said — meaning he identifies local Afghans who cooperate with NATO. (READ MORE)

David Axe: In Eastern Afghanistan, Virtual “No Go” Zones for NATO Forces - When U.S. Army Capt. Joe Snowden first asked the elders in this remote valley in eastern Afghanistan to stop growing poppies, they laughed. The poppies, once processed into heroin, fuel the drug trade that provides much of the financing for the Taliban and other fighters in the area, explained Snowden, who is deployed here from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy. Although the elders assured Snowden that they understood this, his request still bordered on the absurd. So did Snowden’s request for the name of the leader of the local insurgent cell, which made the elders laugh once again. In Afghanistan, meetings such as this one between NATO forces and Afghan elders are the bread and butter of military-civil relations. Many NATO patrols culminate in a sit-down with some mix of tribal, religious and local government leaders. Most of these so-called shuras are quite small — just a couple dozen people. Larger shuras can bring together scores of powerful men. (READ MORE)

Jules Crittenden: How It Works - I had the tremendous good fortune to be able to come home whole, and without having seen my friends killed in front of me. The deaths I witnessed were strangers, mainly enemies who had been engaged in trying to kill us. The friends who died, s shocking as those events were at the time, were brief acquaintances who died elsewhere. But as my pal Sig Christianson of the San Antonio Express-News put it, one day when we were discussing a news report that 19 percent of returning Iraq combat vets had PTSD: “Try 90 percent. The other 10 percent had it when they got there.” Sig and I went down the article’s list of PTSD indicators, checking off our hits. “Saw people killed.” Check. “Narrowly avoided being killed.” Check. “Had friends who died.” Check. On down the list, which I recall included something about a lousy welcome home, political rejection of the cause. Check. I was spared nightmares, but not emotional upheaval that would come on at odd times... (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
Friends remember soldier's smile, tenacity - Pfc. Erin McLyman wanted to return to Iraq. A broken neck couldn't stop her. The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier suffered the injury during leave earlier this year. (READ MORE)

Recruiter arrested, charged with abuse - KVAL.com is reporting that Oregon National Guard recruiter Tim Fox, of Lebanon was charged on suspicion of first-degree sexual abuse and was lodged in the Linn County Jail. (READ MORE)

One source of jobs, training for returning vets - The Small Business Administration announced it would give 10 grants to entrepreneurial programs around the country with the goal of helping vets start and run businesses of their own. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:

Iraq: The Wrong Type of Sand - On the very long and expensive list of materials that the American military had to ship to Iraq since 2003, and is now shipping out many of them again, one might not have expected to find sand. (READ MORE)

In Iraqi Politics, Considering the Commute - Ayad Allawi’s opponents pulled few punches in the close-run election campaign that he won, calling him a new Saddam, a Baathist, a friend of terrorists, even questioning his parentage — claiming he could not become prime minister because his mother was not born an Iraqi. (READ MORE)

Arab Press Reaction to Ayad Allawi’s Election Success - The outcome of the recent parliamentary elections in Iraq has been followed by a collective sense of relief in the larger Arab world. The surprise winner, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, is widely seen as a less divisive figure than Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. (READ MORE)

Iraq health official killed at his Baghdad home - Iraqi officials say gunmen fatally shot a health ministry official at his home in Baghdad in the latest slaying apparently targeting government employees. (READ MORE)

Empowered Sadrists Organize New Ballot in Iraq - Followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the militant cleric whose militia was a major force in the Shiite insurgency against American forces, announced Wednesday that they were arranging a special vote to pick Iraq’s next prime minister. (READ MORE)

Iraq's Kurds want a voice in exchange for support - After years of what they consider unfulfilled promises, Iraq's Kurds are hardening their demands to wring out the best deal from prospective allies following an election that has left the country's future government unclear. (READ MORE)

Conference Promotes Local Business Development in Kandahar - Kandahar provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa delivers the welcoming address at the Kandahar Business Procurement Conference earlier today. (READ MORE)

DEA says Afghan opium seizures soar in 2009 - Opium seizures in Afghanistan soared 924 percent last year because of better cooperation between Afghan and international forces, the top U.S. drug enforcement official said Thursday. (READ MORE)

Pakistan moves closer to renaming volatile region - The rugged Pakistani province that was once a stomping ground for the British, and more recently gained a reputation as a Taliban and al-Qaida haven, may soon get a mouthful of a new name. (READ MORE)

U.S. campaign to reform Kandahar is rife with pitfalls - The coming battle for control of this ancient crossroads city will be the toughest challenge of the war in Afghanistan -- not because it will be bloody, necessarily, but because it will require the hardest item for U.S. commanders to deliver, which is an improvement in governance. (READ MORE)

What France Can Do - President Nicolas Sarkozy of France got nearly everything he could have hoped for from his visit to the United States this week. Now he needs to return the favor by significantly increasing French combat strength in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Explosion Kills At Least 13 in Southern Afghanistan - Afghan authorities say at least 13 people have been killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan. The attack took place Wednesday in the Nahr-e-Sarraj district near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. (READ MORE)

Afghan president denied more control of vote body - Afghanistan's parliament rejected a bid Wednesday by President Hamid Karzai to tighten his control over a key electoral watchdog body, after concerns he was reneging on promises to clean up corruption. (READ MORE)

Lawmakers Resist Karzai’s Move on Election Panel - Afghan lawmakers dealt President Hamid Karzai a rare and potentially significant rebuke on Wednesday when the lower house of Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reverse his decision to take control of what had been the country’s only independent election-fraud monitor. (READ MORE)

Mullen Hears from Afghans, Marines - The Marines who work at the governmental center here would feel right at home at an old cavalry post in the American West. The center looks like Fort Apache with razor wire and Hesco barriers. (READ MORE)

Chairman Meets With Kandahar Leaders - Navy Adm. Mike Mullen attended a meeting of community leaders in the governor’s palace here today – a building that used to be the headquarters for Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. (READ MORE)

Chairman Emphasizes Eliminating Civilian Casualties - The coalition record on civilian casualties has improved significantly as a new strategy has gone into place in Afghanistan, but American leaders continue to hammer home how important it is to avoid killing civilians. (READ MORE)

Challenges Clear to U.S.-Afghan Partnership, Mullen Says - After visits to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today that “never has our partnership … been stronger, or the challenges we face, clearer.” (READ MORE)

Top Taliban commander slips from Pak security forces' dragnet in NWFP - A top Pakistani Taliban commander, Mullah Toofan, escaped from the clutches of security forces in the restive North West Frontier Province's (NWFP) Orakzai region, as troops continued their offensive against extremists in which over 18 militants have been killed since Tuesday. (READ MORE)

Nicholson says Parliament can't see all Afghan documents - The powers of Parliament are being put to the test in the political battle over access to uncensored documents in the Afghan detainee affair. (READ MORE)

Afghan president blames foreigners for vote fraud - President Hamid Karzai is blaming foreigners for widespread fraud in last year's presidential election. Karzai told election workers Thursday there had been "vast fraud" in the Aug. 20 ballot but that it was not committed by Afghans. (READ MORE)

U.S. aid goes to small nations in Afghan war -The Pentagon is pouring millions of dollars into equipment and training for its smaller partner nations in the Afghanistan war, a new effort that could encourage some countries not to abandon the increasingly unpopular conflict. (READ MORE)

Sold, raped and jailed, a girl faces Afghan justice - For the shy Afghan girl who sat quietly in a detention centre with a pale blue headscarf, teenage rebellion had come at a heavy price: seven years in prison. (READ MORE)

Pakistan kills 28 insurgents near Afghan border - Pakistani troops stormed militant positions and helicopters destroyed vehicles carrying insurgents near the Afghan border Thursday, killing 28 suspected militants and forcing thousands of civilians to flee, officials said. (READ MORE)

Bombing kills 13 in Afghan village - Assailants set off a bomb Wednesday in a village bazaar in troubled Helmand province, killing 13 people and wounding almost four dozen, provincial officials said. (READ MORE)

Harvesting Democracy in Afghanistan - We flew into Marjah over a patchwork of poppy fields — not exactly a sea of poppies, but plenty of them. It was two weeks before the harvest, and the last blossoms were floating away in the dusty haze of Helmand province… (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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