May 11, 2010

From the Front: 05/11/2010

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

A Little Pink in a Word of Camo:
Promises a Marine widow cannot bear to hear - A cassette tape is waiting for me. It sits in a small bubble mailer on my night table. It stares at me when I walk in the room; it beckons to me as I walk out. But still it sits there and waits. It is the last thing. The last thing he sent to me from "over there." There is no note inside, just a regular old-school cassette tape. The outside of the envelope is addressed in his handwriting. "Love, Poppa Bear" is written on the back. I've opened it to look inside, but I haven't yet drawn up the courage to listen. I know what I can expect to hear. The same things he always told me. He'll tell me how much he loves us and misses us. He'll sing to us--he always sang to us. Probably our favorite songs, maybe some new ones. He'll talk to the baby, he loved talking to her and she loves to listen to him. The first time I saw her smile was when he talked to her on the phone from "over there." (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Deployment Question #19--How has deployment changed you? - When Gunner left the first time for Iraq, I was 30, with two kids ages 5 & 2. He had deployed for a year before, but we were in Germany and since we had no kids, I threw myself into work, graduate school, and learning German. We got married when I was 22 and he was 24. We were young, but I had finished college and was pretty independent anyway. As we are about to embark on our 5th year long deployment, I have changed. So has he. I know when he leaves, I know that I can handle anything that comes my way. I could the first time, but I still liked to talk it over with him. I do a lot more things on my own. I don't wait for him to travel or see new things. I plan adventures for when he gets home using some of the extra deployment money. I make more lists. I value our time together as a family more. I don't take certain things for granted. (READ MORE)

Thom Shanker: Life and Death and Life in Iraq - This is a soldier’s story, a tale of life and of death and of life’s return. It is the story of one soldier, Capt. Joshua A. Mantz, who was shot in Iraq. Technically, he was dead, a flat-liner for a full 15 minutes — long past the time many doctors use as their mark for ordering a halt in life-saving efforts, since brain damage can start within just a few minutes without vital signs. But it also is the story of how Captain Mantz will journey to Washington this week, where he will speak of the battlefield physicians who brought him back to life, and thank the counselors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who balanced discipline with empathy and pushed him through rehabilitation. The 27-year-old from Sunbury, Pa., got to practice his compelling narrative this past weekend, when he met Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was visiting the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan., with a stop at nearby Fort Riley, to deliver a challenge to cut wasteful Pentagon spending. (READ MORE)

C.J. Chivers: A Pacifist Chaplain’s Soul-Searching Tour of War - Sheri Snively cautions her readers where they are headed on the first page. The warriors groaned and grimaced as they gave voice to their pain. Day after day, gunshots and blasts provided a steady stream of blood across the steely, gray-green floor, and the pungent odor of burned flesh hung heavy in the warm air. This is a tale written while at war between two cities, between Ramadi and Fallujah, where I served as the trauma hospital and mortuary affairs chaplain at Al Taqqadum in the heart of Al Anbar Province. What follows is “Heaven in the Midst of Hell: A Quaker Chaplain’s View of the War in Iraq” (Raven Oaks Press), a book that is part diary from the field, part post-tour meditation by an officer with a rare seat and an unorthodox perspective on some of the hardest days for the American military in Iraq. Commander Snively, assigned to the Marines in an area of intense combat, is a pacifist. How did she square the facts of her world? (READ MORE)

IraqPundit: It Could All Go Down the Drain - Baghdad woke up to news of murders again. It appears that al-Qaeda is regrouping and signaling that it has not been defeated. Reuters says "at dawn in Baghdad, gunmen equipped with silencers killed at least seven Iraqi soldiers and policemen when they attacked six checkpoints, while bombs planted at three others wounded several more, an Interior Ministry source said." The checkpoints were all attacked around the same time, the source told Reuters, asking not to be identified. Other checkpoints came under sporadic fire later in the day from gunmen in cars. This was a message to us that they can attack us in different parts of the city at the same time because they have cells everywhere," the source said. Meanwhile, everyone is talking about the meeting between Nouri Al Maliki and Ayad Allawi. A deal is getting worked out among the parties. Everyone wants the killings and bombings to stop. Everyone is so tired and fed up that you can smell the frustration in the air. (READ MORE)

Family Matters Blog: Gates Thanks Spouses for Steadfast Support - I’m always gratified to see our senior leaders acknowledging the immense sacrifice of our military spouses. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was the latest to do so when he took time out to thank military spouses during a town hall meeting May 8 at Fort Riley, Kan. Shandi Dix, from 1st Infantry Division Post, described his visit in her American Forces Press Service article, “Gates Thanks Spouses for Soldier Support.” Gates addressed local education and health care issues, then thanked the spouses for their support before a question-and-answer session. “Thank you for all you do for your loved ones in uniform, your families and your communities,” Gates said. “Many of you are running single parent households while your spouse is deployed or have done so in the past. Some of you have done it more than once.” Dix highlighted some of the spouses’ questions in her article. (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: Dispatches from the Front: Route Clearance and Escalation of Force in COIN - Today brings us a guest post by Lieutenant Smiles, an Army engineer currently deployed to Afghanistan. - The success of COIN in Afghanistan rests on the shoulders of Route Clearance patrols. If you’re not familiar with route clearance, it is the act of deliberately sweeping roads/routes for IEDs. Simply put, our only job is to look for and get rid of IEDs. Having done this a while I can say that there are generally only two outcomes – either you find the IED before it goes off, or you find it because it goes off. I’m currently stationed in Southern Afghanistan patrolling a route that was averaging about 50 IEDs each week approximately 5 weeks ago. With constant patrolling, a little blood, and a lot of C-4 the route has been considered safe enough to open for civilian traffic. Route Clearance is very rarely considered the main effort in the COIN fight because our patrols are generally of the mounted variety... (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: SitRep: Kit Up! Embed (Kabul) - After 23 hours of travel, including an eight hour layover in Frankfurt airport and a surreal flight to the international airport in Kabul, Ward and I are finally in the military slipstream heading to our embed in RC-E. We’re over at the military side of the Kabul and are awaiting a flight from here to Bagram. It’s pretty cool to see all the different nationalities here, including Italians, French, Germans and a very cute Norwegian soldier who got a whoop from all the folks waiting in the pax terminal to applaud her birthday (I didn’t ask how old she was…always the gentleman, even in a war zone). With each different military here there’s a ton of crazy vehicles, camo patterns and gear. I saw a couple guys who looked like Brits with the new UK MultiCam. I’m also digging the German desert pattern with is digital dappled look. And the French? Very fashionable with their desert duds in the old-school blob pattern. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: The FST Sends A Fabulous Note of Appreciation - I wanted to mention a really nice letter I received from the Trauma NCO, SSG Willer of the 759th Forward Surgical Team. SSG Willer was part of a group that became a very tight team under the most trying of times in Afghanistan. Last year, they received dozens of packages from readers of this blog while my husband was there. The items sent ranged from a goofy Halloween mask sent by Coffeypot, snacks, decorations, books, yoga materials and shoes, socks and clothes for children gathered by my husband's 83-year old Aunt and her friends in Charlevoix MI. He wrote last week, and I wanted to make sure everyone who sent things got a chance to read it: "Thank you for everything you have done to help build the morale of the FST personnel, and raise the spirits and quality of life for the local national children whom we treat. Thank you, for sharing your husband and his vital talents with us in the Army. He is an incredible man..." (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: US pounds Taliban compound in North Waziristan - The US launched a barrage of missiles at a Taliban compound in a known al Qaeda haven in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan. Unmanned Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired 12 missiles at a compound and vehicles parked outside in the Datta Khel region near the Afghan border. The compound was described as a "training camp" run by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Fourteen extremists were killed in the strike, according to AFP. Three more were wounded, and the death toll is expected to rise. No senor al Qaeda or Taliban leaders have been reported killed at this time. But the concentrated attack indicates a high value target may have been at the compound. Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda hub - Today's strike is the second in Datta Khel in three days. On May 9, US Predators fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Inzar Kala in Datta Khel, killing 10 "rebels," including suspected al Qaeda operatives. (READ MORE)

Loving A Soldier Blog: Hidden Gems - To me, one of the best parts of moving to a new places is discovering all there is to discover about the area. For most duty locations, there are the typical fun places to explore like zoos and museums and parks. Some places even have special historical places to visit or yummy restaurants to eat at. Then there are the "hidden gems" that, I'm quite certain, every Post has. These hidden gems are places that might be off the beaten path, they might not be the areas #1 hot spot but they are well worth a visit...or two! Each duty station we've lived at has had at least one of these hidden gems. At Fort Polk, the hidden gem came in the form of restaurants. There were two amazing lunch spots, one in DeRidder and one in Leesville. In Leesville it was the Ranch House and in DeRidder it was Two Sisters. They are owned by members of the same family and have the most delicious food! Their jalapeno bread was amazing and the thought of their sweet tea still makes my mouth water! (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: What's the Password, Kenneth? - For years, I've been predicting that the Army was going to make computer networks so secure that regular soldiers would ultimately find the system completely unusable. Given my experience last week, when I was trying to request yet another user account for yet another military system--which required the creation of yet another 15-character-and-don't-use-any-dictionary-words-but-make-sure-to-include-two-special-characters password--I feared that our New Robot Overlords had finally succeeded. In requesting my new account and password, I had to prove my identity by entering certain dates. Birth date? Check. Date of marriage? Check. What was the exact first day I wore the Army uniform? Uhhhhh ... let me get back you on that one. Lucky for me, I could log into my personal records on the Army pay system, the repository for non-trivial trivia such as the answer to the "first day you wore the uniform question." (READ MORE)

Joshua Foust: Guest Post: A Different Perspective on Kabul’s Restaurant Raids - This email comes via an aonymous westerner who was worked extensively in Afghanistan for about a decade. In case anyone somehow divines the western’s identity, these views are the westerner’s alone, and not representative of the westerner’s employer. —eds. *** josh, re the kabul liquor raids, i’d say this: it was not a surprise that l’atmosphere was raided. the surprise was that it took so long to happen. the raid itselfwas probably predictable. yes, it’s sad. but the sadness is that part of the raid was heavy-handed or even criminal — if the waitresses were violated as reported. there are other ways for a governing force to implement shifts in what will be socially tolerated. and then to allow the necessary little vents. hell, it’s long been possible to get cold beer even in gaza, under the nose of hamas. and the northern alliance home team helped score cheap vodka for visitor’s western habits — in 2001. (READ MORE)

Sic Semper Tyrannis: COIN is "going down" - again. - "Scepticism about McChrystal's ambitious aims was implicit in the way the Pentagon report on the war issued Apr. 26 assessed the progress of the campaign in Marja. Now, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai begins a four-day round of consultations with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials here this week, the new report has been given even more pointed expression by an unnamed "senior military official" quoted in a column in the Washington Post Sunday by David Ignatius. The senior military officer criticised McChrystal's announcement in February that he had "a government in a box, ready to roll in" for the Marja campaign, for having created "an expectation of rapidity and efficiency that doesn't exist now", according to Ignatius. The same military official is also quoted as pointing out that parts of Helmand that were supposed to have been cleared by the offensive in February and March are in fact still under Taliban control... (READ MORE)

Andi: PMSS + DTY = One Ridiculous Situation - My least favorite thing to do when my husband is away is dealing with mechanics, contractors and repair men. I'm not a helpless little female, and I can handle a lot of minor repairs myself, but I don't know the technical ins and outs of major repair work and unless I've been referred by someone I know and trust, I'm always trying to figure out if prices I'm being quoted are reasonable, or if I'm about to be taken for a ride. All I know is something is broken and needs to be fixed. But the main reason I don't like to handle this when my husband is away is that I occasionally suffer from PMSS. Paranoid Military Spouse Syndrome. PMSS afflicts some of us. It's that delusional state-of-mind when we think someone is out to get us. They know our spouse is away and it's a perfect time for them to take advantage of the situation. No, it's never actually happened, and isn't likely to, but when my husband leaves something odd occurs in that mass of cobwebs I call a brain. (READ MORE)

Unambiguously Ambidextrous: Still Think Afghanistan Doesn’t Affect Us? - The Obama administration has come to reluctantly admit what the Bush administration embraced from day one: that to defeat the terrorists, you have to take the fight to them. And since the terrorists don’t play by the rules, you can’t always either. The U.S. now has reason to believe that the attempted car bombing in Times Square was the work of the Pakistani Taliban, a group not just fighting for regional power, but global Islamic supremacy. The number one hot spot for terrorism isn’t in Iraq or in Afghanistan during the first four months of 2010, but in Pakistan, where the country has its hands full with militant factions. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has told media that they have evidence to suggest the Pakistani Taliban was behind the Times Square bombing attempt, shooting down the original claims that the terrorist captured fleeing, Faisal Shahzad, had acted alone because of his anger over civilian deaths caused by American forces in Pakistan. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Children at heart - While getting ready for his first overseas deployment, Sgt. Robert Barrett wrote a poem for his family. While it is nearly impossible to sum up any life in a few words, Sgt. Barrett came close to accomplishing the difficult feat. "I am a father, a son, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin, a brother, a friend, a mentor, a leader and a soldier." The 20-year-old Fall River, Massachusetts, native was not content to fill these ten important roles in name only. Barrett took each very seriously, especially after signing up for the National Guard in 2008. While he enlisted to serve his country, his mother, Carlene Barrett, tells The Fall River Spirit that her son died for another cause that became very close to his heart. "As much as the papers are saying he died for American freedom, he didn't. He died for Afghan soldiers. He went over there fighting for America, but he died for Afghanistan." (READ MORE)

Wings Over Iraq: Ackerman retains his crown - It's no secret that Ralph Peters' writing often irks me, particularly when he launches one of his diatribes against America's "soft" approach to counterinsurgency, and what he must view as a peacenik culture among combat-hardened junior officers. Fortunately, we have intrepid journalists, like Spencer Ackerman, who take on Ralph Peters whenever he rears his ugly head. Indeed, Ackerman reigns supreme when it comes to taking on Ralph Peters. (Although Dave Dilegge does quite well also) Nevertheless, Ackerman almost lost his crown this week, as I opened up David Kilcullen's Counterinsurgency, and was treated to this passage: Some armchair chicken hawks (none with experience of actual warfare in any form, let alone against real guerrillas) have argued that, contrary to recent evidence, you can indeed kill your way out of an insurgency, and have even suggested that an intensely brutal and violent approach is the quickest and best way to suppress an insurgency." (READ MORE)

Noah Shachtman: ‘18 Missiles,’ 14 Dead in Latest Drone Attack - There was a massive drone attack in Pakistan today — one involving multiple unmanned aircraft and “up to 18 American missiles,” according to the Associated Press. 14 people are dead. This second robotic strike in three days is the latest sign that the American drone war in Pakistan has reached a new peak. There have been 34 reported attacks in Pakistan in the first 19 weeks on 2010. That’s almost as many as the 36 strikes carried out in all of 2009. And these strikes are no longer against specific, named terrorists. Signs of militant activity are enough to bring in the drones. The latest target, according to AFP: a training camp “run by militants attached to Taliban-linked Afghan warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is reputed to control up to 2,000 fighters who attack U.S.-led forces over the border in Afghanistan.” CNN’s national security desk wonders whether the strike is in “retaliation” for the attempted Times Square bombing... (READ MORE)

Army Blogger Wife: Deployment Question #20--How has deployment changed you as a parent? - The last questions dealt with how deployment changed you as a person. Now, how did it change you as a parent? Let me explain... Gunner and I had almost 6 years as parents before the deployments started. During that time, he was almost always home, and we were busy raising the girls, taking them to activities, lots of family time. I felt like I had it under control. I felt like I was a good mom. Since Gunner started deploying though, I feel like it has affected me as a mom. I have less patience. I am more overwhelmed. I never have enough time in each day. I do know that is is quality, not quantity. I do know that I do everything in my power to make sure my kids will be okay. I do know that I do more than the average person, and include my children in almost everything that we do. I also know that it's not easy to do alone, especially when their dad is halfway around the world and you have a lot more questions to answer and a lot more worries. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily Brief: Pressure mounts for North Waziristan Offensive - American officials are now saying that failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad went to Pakistan to seek help with his own already-formed idea to bomb the United States. While it is still believed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other Pakistani militant groups provided some form of training or other aid to Shahzad, it is unclear what kind of assistance they provided. The mounting evidence of TTP involvement in Shahzad's bombing attempt is likely to spur American calls for Pakistan to stage an offensive into North Waziristan, home to increasing numbers of TTP as well as militant groups more friendly to the Pakistani state. The deputy head of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that the army will enter North Waziristan when they are ready, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen told Pakistani Army head Gen. Ashfaq Kayani that the United States is not pressuring Pakistan to increase anti-Taliban operations. (READ MORE)

Kandahar Diary: A Loony Toons Ambush & One Captured Bad Guy - Better day today. Got a phone call from the CM on leave who must have picked up my vibe (is he reading this blog??). While I’m never one for big man hugs and pats on the head, his call gave me a real lift and I have since been told Dubai are holding me up as the example Ops Manager! Go figure... makes me cringe a bit at my weepy last post. To be honest I’m scratching my head for this post. Things are all a bit hum-drum at the moment. Very routine and boring. Touch wood. I’m certain that’ll change in the coming weeks which are why we are working flat out on hardening the position. I manage to get out on the road today with some of the Force Protection lads on a minor task – good to get out of the office. One of my convoys from here to Lashkargah was ambushed earlier by a large party (20+) of insurgents using an IED concealed in a wheelbarrow supported by direct fire from PKM and AK. (READ MORE)

Richard Lowry: Courage on the homefront - Jason was a Marine infantryman, and a damn good one at that. Jason knew Lindsey was special the moment he met her at his cousin’s wedding. This was a girl he wanted to be around. By the summer of 2004, Jason began to think that Lindsey might be the woman that he wanted to marry. Lindsey kept reminding herself that Jason was a Marine and that he would soon have to go back to war. But that did not seem to make a difference, Lindsey was smitten too. She couldn’t help herself from falling in love. Jason flew back to Iraq on September 11, 2004. Difficult as it was, Lindsey knew that Jason had a job to do and Jason was eager to get back into the fight. But this deployment was different. This time Jason couldn’t wait to get back home and ask Lindsey to be his wife. Forced to endure a second wartime separation, they turned their attention to their work. Jason worked hard to prepare his Marines for the coming fight and Lindsey dove into her job, working 12-hour days. (READ MORE)

News from the Home Front:
One man's database helps uncover cases of falsified valor - It certainly looked real. It had the right font, right seal. It was even signed by the secretary of the Navy. But Doug Sterner, immediately suspected that there was something fishy about the Marine's citation for the Navy Cross... (READ MORE)

Pentagon Doubts Grow on McChrystal War Plan - Although Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's plan for wresting the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar from the Taliban is still in its early stages of implementation, there are already signs that setbacks and obstacles it has encountered have raised serious doubts among top military officials in Washington about whether the plan is going to work. (READ MORE)

U.S. Defense Leaders Confident in Afghanistan Strategy - Here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit this week with U.S. President Barack Obama and other high-level administration officials, the top military commander and senior U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan both expressed confidence today that the U.S. strategy being employed there will succeed. (READ MORE)

News from the Front:
Attacks kill over 100 in Iraq, al Qaeda blamed - Bombers and gunmen with suspected links to a battered but still lethal al Qaeda killed more than 100 people on Monday in a wave of attacks on markets, a textile factory, checkpoints and other sites across Iraq. (READ MORE)

Attacks in Iraq Kill More Than 100 - A wave of attacks across Iraq killed more than people Monday, and wounded about 300 others. The violence began before dawn, with gunmen in speeding cars killing soldiers and police at checkpoints across Baghdad. (READ MORE)

Coordinated Attacks in Iraqi Cities Kill More Than 100 - A series of attacks in Baghdad and other cities across Iraq on Monday struck police and army checkpoints, as well as markets, a mayor’s office and a textile factory. (READ MORE)

102 dead as bombers fill power vacuum caused by Iraqi election - A series of suicide bombings rocked Iraq yesterday from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south, setting a bleak record in carnage this year. (READ MORE)

US drone attack kills 14 in Pakistan: officials - US drones fired a barrage of 12 missiles, destroying a training camp for Islamist fighters in Pakistan's tribal belt and killing 14 militants on Tuesday, security officials said. (READ MORE)

Missiles Strike Pakistan Tribal Area - Up to 18 American missiles slammed into a Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan close to the Afghan border Tuesday, killing 14 alleged insurgents in the third such strike since a failed car bombing in New York drew fresh attention to the region, officials said. (READ MORE)

U.S. vows not to abandon Afghanistan as talks open - The United States pledged on Tuesday not to abandon Afghanistan as the two countries began top-level talks after weeks of public spats between the White House and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (READ MORE)

Team Soldiering on After Tragic Loss - Embedded Training Team 6-1, from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, Danvers, Mass., took a collective sigh of relief as they hopped in their up-armored Humvees and headed back to Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

IJC Operational Update, May 11 - Afghan and international patrols successfully conducted operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan during the past 24 hours that targeted improvised explosive device facilitators and weapons used to attack security forces. (READ MORE)

Afghanistan readies program to reintegrate Taliban - Small pockets of Taliban foot soldiers ready to switch sides are waiting for the Afghan government to roll out a nationwide program to lure them off the battlefield and make peace with their leaders. (READ MORE)

Corruption, incompetence charges plague new Afghan police force - Although the members of Afghanistan's elite new police force have been touted as the country's best and brightest, U.S. military strategists find that they're plagued by the same problems as Afghanistan's conventional police, who are widely considered corrupt, ineffective and inept. (READ MORE)

Nato has only seven months to take Kandahar from the Taleban - The campaign to drive the Taleban out of Kandahar province has until the end of the year to succeed if it is to capitalise on maximum troop numbers and political unity, Nato commanders and Western diplomats told The Times. (READ MORE)

Afghan insurgents hit NATO helicopter - A military helicopter in southern Afghanistan had to make an emergency landing after being hit by insurgent fire but the crew were rescued, a NATO statement said on Monday. (READ MORE)

Obama works to fix relationship with Afghan president - The Obama administration worked Monday to patch up its strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he arrived in Washington, issuing carefully worded statements that he's the United States' partner in war, despite recent disputes. (READ MORE)

In Washington, Karzai Seeks To Repair Image, Win Suport For Peace Talks - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has arrived in Washington with an entourage that includes 12 cabinet ministers and several other high ranking officials from his government. (READ MORE)

Iran's meddling in Afghanistan 'not significant' - The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Monday that Iran is continuing to back Taliban forces, but its supply of training and weapons is insignificant. (READ MORE)

Afghan girls hit again by suspected gas attack - Dozens of schoolgirls in Afghanistan were admitted to hospital on Tuesday after two suspected poisonous gas attacks on schools, officials said, the latest in a spate of similar incidents. (READ MORE)

US soldiers stalk Afghanistan's deadly wildlife - As night falls on this small hilltop base in the heart of Taliban country in southern Afghanistan, U.S. Army soldiers break out their knives and flashlights and go hunting for some of the country's deadliest inhabitants: snakes and scorpions. (READ MORE)

Red Cross confirms secret Afghan jail - The Red Cross has confirmed reports there is a second secret detention centre at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The base is already home to the Parwan Detention Facility, which holds prisoners detained by US forces. (READ MORE)

Cross posted at Castle Argghhh!

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