Petraeus Comes East

The coverage of the impending arrival of General Petraeus to take charge of the Afghan Campaign has been intense.  Pundits both big and small have been offering anaysis almost non-stop – I’m getting Petraeus fatigue reading all this junk.  But for those of you who haven’t reached that point yet here is my contribution on The Aloyna Show:

Apparently this move was greeted by the White House press corps as pure genius on the part of the President and on that I am not too sure.  Granted this is an inspired choice and a much better one than I feared would be made.  I still think General Mattis was the best choice for the job because there needs to be serious reform to how the ground troops are deployed, missioned, and supported with both air and surface delivered fires.  It will be difficult for Gen Petraeus to introduce changes in the ROE because McChrystal worked for him and the current operational constraints iritating the troops had to have been approved by Central Command.

We should start seeing more of this.  In most of the country it is possible, and culturally advisable to move outside the FOB's without the body armor or helmets like this soldier was dpoing last week in Bamiyan. Our Friegn Service Officers could and shold be doing the same in places like Mazar and Herat but instead surround themselves with hire gun guys who have no experience with the local culture and are thus of little use
We should start seeing more of this. In most of the country it is possible, and culturally advisable to move outside the FOB's without the body armor or helmets like this soldier was doing last week in Bamiyan. Our Foreign Service Officers could and should be doing the same in places like Mazar and Herat but instead surround themselves with hired gun guys who have no experience with the local culture and are thus of little use

Changing up the ground game is an urgent requirement but it won’t fix the inherent problem with our efforts in Afghanistan nor has President Obama created conditions he needs to get anything resembling an adequate outcome.  The Rolling Stone article showcased a  dysfunctional senior team which is not exactly news to anyone paying attention for the last 18 months.  The President had the opportunity to  clean house by bringing in a new ambassador, relieving Holbrooke of his Czar duties, because the position is confusing and Holbrooke annoying, and then focus the new team on defining an acceptable end-state and  getting the hell out of here.

The President made a choice which probably seemed to be wise under Chicago rules but was not too damn bright when viewed through the lens of Grand Strategy.  Petraeus made President Obama, his V.P. Joe Bidden and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton look bad.  Really bad.  When he appeared before the Senate before the Iraq surge those three senators made asses of themselves.   Now they give Petraeus a slight demotion (I guess because he still reports to CENTCOM) and an impossible task as a little payback for past slights and whatever hand Petraeus had in engineering the relief of McChrystal’s predecessor Gen McKiernan.  They sent Petraeus here to fail because even our President and the group of home town dim wits he surrounds himself with know that the military cannot win this thing alone.

Time for a little H.L. Menken; to wit:

“The older I grow the less I esteem mere ideas. In politics, particularly, they are transient and unimportant. …. There are only men who have character and men who lack it.”

Character – that is all that really matters now…does Gen Petraeus have character?  Pulling this goat rope together requires a dynamic leader who motivates the troops, both Afghan and ISAF, for the trials ahead.   I know Gen Mattis could do that because he’s done it, but Gen Petraeus?  We shall soon see.  I am not encouraged by this exchange in the oval office (hat tip to Herschel Smith at The Captains Journal:)

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?

Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame, Petraeus replied.

Good. No problem, the president said. If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?

Yes, sir, in agreement, Petraeus said.

Yes, sir, Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. Bob, you have any problems? he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now, he said. No one said anything.

Tell me now, Obama repeated.

Fully support, sir, Mullen said.

Ditto, Petraeus said.

The Afghan Security Forces will not be ready in 18 months and everybody knows that.  But that was then and this is now.  Gen Petraeus brings with him great stature.  If he asks for more troops it is hard to see how he could be turned down?  If he reports that he will need more time what can Obama do but give him more time?  One of the most salient facts concerning the Iraq surge which has disappeared down the memory hole is that President Bush pushed that plan on the Pentagon – President Obama doesn’t have a plan to push which means the Pentagon will be dictating to him and not the other way around

In the vast majority of Afghanistan both the military and the Foriegn Service Officers could move like this, unarmored without the Ivanhow suit, and in vehicles which can handle to rural roads without breaking down.  But it takes local knowlege, self confidence, and a laser like focus on the mission to develop the situational awarness required to work like your average NGO guy or gal.  This is a Kiwi patrol in Bamiyan Province near the Bandamer Lakes
In the vast majority of Afghanistan both the military and the Foreign Service Officers (FSO's) could move like this, unarmored without the Ivanhoe suit, and in vehicles which can handle to rural roads without breaking down. But it takes local knowledge, self confidence, and a laser like focus on the mission to develop the situational awareness required to work like your average NGO guy or gal. This is a Kiwi patrol in Bamiyan Province near the Bandeamir Lakes

The military focus remains on Kandahar which has been a disaster to date.  We said we were coming and have been shaping the battle field with SF hits designed to take out Taliban leaders.  They have had some success but it is not working out like we hoped.  The purpose of removing battle leaders in violent night raids is to sow discontent between the troops in the field and their pay masters back in Quetta.  That did not seem to work out in Marjah and in Kandahar it is the bad guys who are running up the numbers from their own JPEL list.  This from Thomas Ruttig in Foreign Policy:

“Kandahar’s deputy mayor Azizullah Yarmal, Abdul Majid Babai the head of the province’s culture and information department, Abdul Jabbar the district governor of Arghandab and Haji Abdul Hai an Abdul Rahman Tokhi the tribal elders — all killed in the past few months. Not to talk about Matiullah Qate the provincial police chief killed by the thugs of a guy who calls himself the Nancy Pelosi of Kandahar’ and the uncounted other Afghans.”

Attempting to Decapitate the southern Taliban just is not working.  If somebody removed all the CEO’s from fortune 500 companies would that automatically mean the companies would fail?  If we lost all 100 of our current senators would our political system be worse or better off?  The enemy always has a vote in war and their vote regarding Kandahar was for us to bring it on.  Our response?  Wait a minute ….we need a do over.

Kandahar is a must win situation of our own making and moving Walid Wali Karzai out of the way so that the new Governor, Tooryali Wesa (a Canadian citizen)  can function with the required authority is a critical task which has fallen on Petraeus.  Marja, although called a “bleeding ulcer” in the Rolling Stone piece is not over and could end up an overall success.  C.J. Chivers from the New York Times has been filing a steady stream of excellent reports and assessments from his embed with the Marines.  His latest on Marja is a fair description of what is going right for the Marines as well as the cost.  The current rules of engagement are restricting the Marines use of fire and thus their ability to maneuver in contact.  The price for that is lost momentum which translate into slower operations.  Which means Marja is costing more time than we anticipated which happens in War and is not necessarily an indicator of failure.

Both Marja and Kandahar are shooting wars.  Groups of fighters who attack our forces in those areas need to be crushed decisively each and every-time they encounter us which we can do now and have done before.  I have been very critical of  the military over the needless deaths caused by dysfunctional procedures to “protect” convoys which have killed over 600 Afghans while not stopping one VBIED attack.  I have heaped scorn upon the military and intelligence systems which allow the senseless bombing of wedding parties and I  think the current application of Special Forces attempting to kill or capture high value targets is stupid.  But when our troops are in contact their priority is to maintain contact until their tormentors are destroyed.  If the bad guys go to ground in a local compound too bad so sad for the people caught in the middle which is exactly our response to non combatants who happen to be danger close during a Drone strike.    There is a word for situations like that “war.”  If local Afghans don’t like it when the effects of war are visited upon them they should make a greater effort to keep the villains away.  That may not be fair but there isn’t a damn thing fair happening in the life cycle of your average tenet farmer in Afghanistan.  And look at what popped up on the wire just now?  Petraeus to modify rules of engagement – well there you go.

outer works from the
The outer works from the Shahr-e Zohak (Red City) fortress in the mountains of Bamiyan Province at the convergence of the Bamiyan and the Kalu rivers. Unfortunately the defenders of this fortress killed the favorite grandson of Genghis Khan in the early 6th century which resulted in annihilation of everyone in the Bamiyan valley when the great Khan visited the area to avenge the death of one of his own. This fort was used during the fighting between the Taliban and local Hazara resistance fighters in the 1990's.

The Taliban ROE is unchanged despite proclamations to the contrary.  Yesterday ISAF found 10 beheaded bodies of local men in the south.  They don’t seem too concerned about generating scores of anti Taliban fighters as they knock off more and more of the tribal leadership.  A famous military quote, attributed to both Andrew and General Stonewall Jackson is to “never take counsel in your fears” which is a bit of wisdom the Taliban have taken to heart in their combat operations and one which we ignore at our own peril.

So now Petraeus comes east to take over the war while fine tuning the “Clear Hold, Build” tactical approach.  Let us hope he has some success but the fact is unless he changes his entire ground scheme his efforts will produce marginal results.  It is time to let the Big Dog have his say and so I leave you with a down and dirty assessment from my father MajGen J.D. Lynch USMC (Ret.)

The clear phase is a military responsibility. There is an impressive number of military personnel in Afghanistan today. I have not seen a breakdown of the ratio of infantry to support troops but suspect that the infantry number is, on a relative scale, low. There are two basic ways for the infantry units to operate in Afghanistan. One is to live and work with and among the people. The other is to live on and operate from, Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s). The former is the course of action more likely to bring positive results. The latter, appears designed with force protection as the dominant factor. I have often wondered if, somewhere, there is an analysis of the infantry strength living among the people and the infantry strength operating from FOB’s.

Despite probable inefficiencies in the use of available infantry units to clear areas as they operate from FOBs , the fact remains that the clear portion of the strategy could be executed with some degree of success.

The hold phase is where the strategy’s serious problems start. There are not enough infantry to clear an area, then hold it for reconstruction projects. Resultantly, the Afghan National Police (ANP) are the logical force to hold a cleared area. Despite the millions of dollars expended to train ANP, there appears to be a shortage. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the bulk of the population, with ample reason, considers the ANP to be a corrupt, untrustworthy, and illegitimate organization. This problem is compounded by the fact that the bulk of the population also holds the same view of the Karzai government. They consider the central government to be a corrupt, irrelevant entity. The result is that large segments of the population want nothing to do with the ANP or other representatives of the Karzai government intruding on their lives.

The build phase is now largely a figment of the imagination. Neither the major companies operating from FOB’s nor the more agile, smaller companies who live and operate with the Afghan population can operate in the absence of a hold force.

In the final analysis, the three prong national strategy has two broken or missing prongs. It is a charade summing to the point that the problem and its cures are essentially in the political, vice military, realm. It becomes an even greater charade when the world, including our enemies, knows that the U.S. will start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July of 2011. The most disgusting reality of all is that the charade and its continuance mean that the lives of American military patriots are being squandered, ruined and/or wasted for no valid reason.

29 Replies to “Petraeus Comes East”

  1. Tim, I don’t think GenDr P is going to ask for more troops.

    Mullen described himself as chagrined after the meeting. He had always felt strongly about the importance of civilian control of the military, and in 2008 had delivered a message to the armed forces reminding all service personnel to stay out of politics. Now he and Gates pledged support and told the president that the conduct would change, and it did They swore loyalty, said one senior civilian official. And we chose to believe them.”
    -Newsweek May 15th, 2010

    Also in that Newsweek story there is this quotable…

    “But Obama was perfectly aware of the box he was now in. He could defer entirely to his generals, as President Bush had done, which he considered an abdication of responsibility.”

    But it was W who said, “(General) George (Casey), we’re not playing for a tie.” Admiral Mullin was against The Surge as well.

    (I still don’t understand why the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is an Admiral when the war we’re in is primarily a ground war, in Asia, on both fronts…)


    I would have picked Mattis as well. But things would be very different if I had that choice to make…

    TO THE

  2. 1. Your comments on the nature of GEN Petraeus’ appointment are akin to what I noted in an earlier posting.
    2. Doubt the appointment is as much score-settling as preemptive.
    3. For the latter to be the case would be indicative of a mindset that is defeatist. Or at least dismissive.
    4. Would be thrilled if GEN Petraeus could pull a rabbit out of a hat.
    5. Don’t see it happening -don’t much believe in fairy tales either.
    6. The human cost and fiscal realities of policies that could lead to an outcome favoring the United States (and Afghanistan) are beyond what our leadership are willing to pay.
    7. The outcome of our present policies will be no less expensive.
    8. Saw it forty years ago.
    9. The wheel turns again.
    V/R JWest

  3. I suspect that right about now there is a meeting between a Russian and the ISI, a Taliban rep, perhaps someone from Al Queada too. “How many soldier ground to air missiles will you provide?” “How soon?” “How much?” “Let’s do this!”

    I want the tapes of Obama-Mao–our dear leader, talking to his secret mentor, Colin Powell…

  4. does anyone think that if things were going well in Afghanistan that McChrystal would have been replaced ? RJ why would the Russians do something like that ? something that would result in our leaving sooner ? It is in their best interests to keep us there for as long as they can. Especially since we obviously are not winning.

  5. what percent of Americans killed in Marjah have been NOT killed by IEDs? These rifle/machine gun fights are they a leading cause of casualties ? or IEDs ? how will a change in ROE drastically reduce these numbers ?

  6. Tim must agree that general Mattis would be the best choice for hands on work there.And left Petraeus to work out CENTCOM.Don’t get me wrong i like petraeus but this has to many iron in the fire for one man.But hay time will tell. By the way the Bamiyan province looks interesting

  7. John Ryan:

    It is my strong opinion that Obama-Mao wants to “bug out” of Afghanistan sooner, rather than later.

    His plate is full…with domestic needs intended to cut our legs out from underneath us. Perhaps driven by a deep internal wish to get even with Whitey, by “re-organizing” the primary structures of the major forces/institutions within the United States.

    As to the Russians: Think they forgot what we supplied years ago? Revenge, especially if one brought down the top American General would be so sweet for those who remember in the former Soviet union. My guess is for them to provide a mere ten missiles to some dedicated marksmen.

    Americans are winners. Obama intends to make us a country of losers if he can succeed with his plans. He is like an early frontier settler–a sod buster in many ways; seeing the land fertile for his “crops,” a better choice than those who were there before he arrived…cattlemen for example–hell even Native Americans!

    Note the signs he had his new group of “federales” place in Arizona warning American citizens to stay away…on our soil. Kinda like saying “land mines ahead” or IEDs may be present.

    Bug out of Arizona too!

  8. An assumption that is often made is that generals orders are obeyed. In joint and combined operations they are at best suggestions and the way to ignore commands from a higher “foreign” HQ are simple and well known. There is also a common belief that the troops can be positively motivated by talking to them en mass…ala Vince Lombardi. Perhaps L/Cpls but the people who really need to change their opinions are field officers in their 30s and 40’s and they are a tough room especially when the writing is on the wall. If more battalion and company commanders self assigned mission becomes “get everyone home alive” because of the realization that a withdraw is coming then pep talks will do little good if you goals is to get them to take more risks.

    We are now at the stage where “victory” is meaningless due to the huge cost of the enterprise. The only sensible thing to do is reduce costs as quickly as possible to limit self inflicted damage. Petreaus is the last guy to do this which means the pain will continue for a year until he retires or gets “promoted” to COS.

  9. 1. Agree with the last on commanders reluctance to engage in risky endeavors.
    2. Forting up, limiting exposure and going out heavily armed and armored are reasonable behaviors if you are going to be:
    a. punished for taking casualties
    b. convinced the exercise is pointless
    3. Saw something similar 40 years back -although think the leadership imperatives of the time were more selfish and less professional than what you see today.
    V/R JWest

  10. Well i think the main theme here is “How soon can we withdraw are troops”!

  11. Tim, I have to say that you are doing an outstanding job with these interviews. It still trips me out when I actually hear the media purposely seek out the opinion of ‘contractors’, and with Alonya, she keeps bringing you back.

    Which leads me to my next thought. If the media groups out there were smart, they would do more of these kinds of interviews with guys like yourself. Simply because it is contractors that can float between a military that is forbidden to talk to media and the journalists floating around and looking for any information on the war. And I say forbidden, because no doubt, the Rolling Stone article has done it’s damage to any kind of trust the military might have had in the media. I could be wrong, but once bitten, twice shy as they say.

    It is that set of circumstance that could put guys like you front and center to fill that information vacuum. That is cool.

    I was kind of curious on what your take is on post Operation Lady Gaga* military/media relations? -Matt

    *She was on the cover of Rolling Stone’s pro-COIN article, and on this latest cover for Runaway General.

  12. I don’t think that it is a good idea for people to do too much walking around Marjah, with or without body armor. They almost shot down Elk and Haornbrooke’s Osprey and then immediately attacked with 3 suicide bombers. Comparing Bamiyan to Marjah or Kandahar seems a bit stretched

  13. Tim,

    You’re allowed to change your mind on how we “get after it” but let’s not forget Stanley Mc had the untenable task of trying to actually apply COIN principles, those same principles so much touted and credited to Dave P. My military experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan tell me the so-called policy implemented when GEN P was the MNF-I commander will look a lot like this….get more Afghans in uniform (regardless of their quality or staying power), get Civil Defense Initiative (CDI) off the ground in an even larger scale (i.e. pay our local enemies to stop emplacing IEDs long enough for us to “appear” successful), and then make sure the perception machine is in full tilt within the domestic US media so voters (most important aspect of BHO’s re-election strategy) THINK we are succeeding. Once those conditions are set get the hell out of dodge and let the chips fall where they will. Some in the Dave P inner circle call this COIN, I call it perception warfare at its finest. Regardless, the hubris within the Army is sickening and no doubt GEN P will be lauded as a hero of both Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of the day, all of this is political expediency emeshed in Army politics. I am no advocate of GEN Mc I think he made the worse mistake of all and started to believe the hype written about him when was on top. I would have gone for Mattis, but he would have simply tried to fix the problem at its roots and that is not the game in play here nor the preferred GO/FO model of command. Not to go on a tangent but Mattis would have probably retired as COL in the US Army he is too much of a critical thinker and seems to genuinely get to the matter at hand…anyway… Dave P was an excellent choice because if anyone can put together a perception campaign, call it COIN, and then make the POTUS look good it’s him. However, he isn’t in the Middle East and these Afghans aren’t Arabs so he has some major challenges ahead…best choice for the administration is get eyes off Afghanistan back home, get this COIN game going under big Dave, and then start troop withdrawals very early next spring. Bottom line, just so long as we appear to leave Afghanistan under our terms most Americans will view the war as somewhat successful if they pay that much attention at all. As for big Stan he will retire with all four stars, not a bad paycheck, write a book, and who knows even go into politics or become a “military analyst” for FOX News. He will disappear for about a year and then re-emerge come next election cycle…

    By the way, anybody still keep up on news in Iraq? You know the war we supposedly won? The Counter-Insurgency success model of the US Army. It’s a mess and ethnic violence continues between Shia and Sunni…I guess it doesn’t matter though because we “won” that one, right?

  14. Bilbo:

    Per the CiC – There is and will be no COIN in Afghanistan.

    “There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a targeted plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.”

    But the entire COIN concept, especially the Pop-Centric part, is fatally flawed from the start.

    Can’t wait for Stan’s book (he might not get to keep that fourth star). Agree about Iraq, defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, by command (down to 60k in country according to open source). Utterly and completely agree about Mattis.

    In certain types of business’s they call that perception war thing “forward looking statements” in the small print. It’s a legal way of telling you that they are lying.


  15. Go back to Desert Storm when all America was transfixed watching how the new “smart bombs” could be dropped down into a building via the chimney. Pinpoint accuracy had arrived! We could now just target the “bad guys” and leave alone all those other good people.

    Our female brains embraced this twisted perspective, so we changed all rules for waging war: We “girlied” our game plans, then we really forgot what history provides as lessons to learn or be destroyed.

    Princeton Patreaus got demoted…big time, wile an ugly woman, “call me General” is now being flattered onto our Supreme Court.

    Iraq and Afghanistan don’t interest the women of America: They just want the pain to go away and good times to return.

    Meanwhile, all you males (our new bond slaves) who think you are smart, get your ugly asses out there and go to work paying off this new and the old debt too…sooner, rather than later!

    Mimic Bill Clinton, who is reported to have earned $65 million for just talking to groups of people these past CIC years. Suckers go into military uniforms; really smart people become lawyers and go into politics.

    Karzai knows he is toast with America, even with that great legal warrior Eric Holder walking about testifying on the rule of law, protected by some Black Panther thugs!

    Real men doing real work for real money the American way!

    Semper Fidelis means something different to those people!

    You Betcha!

    1. Hey Guys,

      The attack on Jalalabad Airfield, which is also a major U.S. Army FOB (FOB Fenty) was another example of poor planning and poor execution by the Taliban. The attackers accomplished little more than making a news cycle in yet another bum rush attack which was easily repulsed. The rocket attacks are infrequent and ineffective doing little more than annoying the farmers living close to FOB Fenty. There has been a series of small IED’s going off in the main bazaar which is much more concerning because they appear to be part of a Taliban intimidation campaign against “Un-Islamic” CD and DVD shops. But nobody can turn up a night letter and there have been protracted and quite bloody confrontations in that same part of the bazaar between shop keepers for several years. What is not getting the attention it deserves is the fighting between the 101st Airborne and various groups of villains in both Kunar and Nuristan Provinces. I intend to blog about all this today, but if you missed it they have killed over 150 Taliban/foreign fighter in the Marawara valley which is just across the river and a little north of Assadabad and none of the locals are bitching too much about ISAF air pounding these guys in a pretty densely populated valley. All in all things may be looking up as long as the 101st continues to go after all the riff-raff from Waziristan who have been operating openly in too many places we are supposed to be controlling. If we do that and gain the initiative the local shop keepers will run out the Taliban if they are in fact operating in Jalalabad City and we’ll be fine.

  16. My advice to Gen. Petraeus – a statement from Sun Tzu to his emperor:

    “Your servant has already received your appointment as Commander and when the commander is at the head of the army he need not accept all the sovereign’s orders”

  17. When I read Hastings’ article, it was blatantly obvious his article had no other purpose than to get the general fired. He presented no information of journalistic or academic quality or relevance. As others have stated, his article was intended only to be tabloidal. In this he succeeded and he’s getting his 15 minutes of fame for it. But I suspect his career – still in its youth – will suffer for the rest of his life over this. He has not only defamed himself, but brought shame to the entire journalistic community and created a catastrophic loss of rapport with the military community. I hope it was worth it, Hastings.

    Why do journalists focus on such unimportant details and fail to report the facts and figures? It’s simple – 99% of journalists don’t understand what is happening around them! Journalists are allowed into classified briefings (a privilege – NOT a right!) and allowed to shadow top officers who discuss classified material 24/7. Most journalists, like Hastings, have little comprehension of what they are seeing and hearing during these briefings and discussions. They don’t understand the military culture, the language, the acronyms, the methodology or the big picture in general. They cannot fathom the level of complexity of the jobs of senior officers like McChrystal or Petraeus. They cannot comprehend the weight of responsibility these leaders must bear. So, they have to write at a level they CAN understand – tabloidal.

    Whether comments made by McChrystal or his staff were off-color, rude or even disrespectful is not the business of anyone outside McChrystal and his staff! By being given embed access to his staff, Hastings was given the equivalent access to the personal conversations between a lawyer and his client, or a husband and wife. EVERY officer in the military disagrees with his seniors at some point or another and often shares his/her reservations with his/her staff. But these conversations are confined to within the staff!! It is personal and confidential.

    All you soldiers, NCOs and officers out there – listen to me: when you are confronted by a “war journalist” you must remember that you are speaking to someone who is likely less experienced in war than the lowest private in the Army. They don’t understand our language, our culture, and certainly not our level of duty or responsibility. If you are given leave by your PAO to speak with them, you must speak with them as you would speak to a child – slowly and in simple terms. Otherwise, they will not understand what they have just seen and heard and will be forced to write about some trivial sensationalism in order to make their editor’s quotas.

    1. Demon Tengu, nicely said. Except only 80% of war journalists fall into this category, not 99%. About 15% of war journalists have moderate comprehension. 5% get it.

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