Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

McChrystal: "Marjah (the ‘predictor’ for success at Kandahar) is a ‘Blleding Ulcer’ …."

May 25th, 2010 Comments off

Pat Lang said the ‘clock is ticking’ and the Taliban hear it too well! McClatchy’s/ here

“…….. “You’ve got to be patient,” Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told McChrystal. “We’ve only been here 90 days.” “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied.

“I can’t tell you, sir,” the tall, towheaded, Fort Bragg, N.C., native finally answered.”I’m telling you,” McChrystal said. “We don’t have as many days as we’d like.”

The operation in Marjah is supposed to be the first blow in a decisive campaign to oust the Taliban from their spiritual homeland in adjacent Kandahar province, one that McChrystal had hoped would bring security and stability to Marjah and begin to convey an “irreversible sense of momentum” in the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Instead, a tour last week of Marjah and the nearby Nad Ali district, during which McClatchy had rare access to meetings between McChrystal and top Western strategists, drove home the hard fact that President Barack Obama’s plan to begin pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 is colliding with the realities of the war…. “You don’t feel it here,” he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, “but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.”……. McChrystal expressed impatience with the pace of operations, echoing the mounting pressure he’s under from his civilian bosses in Washington and Europe to start showing progress.

Progress in Marjah has been slow, however, in part because no one who planned the operation realized how hard it would be to convince residents that they could trust representatives of an Afghan government that had sent them corrupt police and inept leaders before they turned to the Taliban……..

“By day there is government,” he said. “By night it’s the Taliban.” (more/here)

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US Afghan troops ‘more than in Iraq’

May 25th, 2010 Comments off

There are more US troops in Afghanistan than Iraq for the first time since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, officials say.
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"…That clock is ticking. The Afghan insurgents can hear it ticking. The generals do not have the time they would need to make their strategy work"

May 23rd, 2010 Comments off

Lang at SST/ here

“Some group of “Taliban” have now claimed yesterday’s attack on the airfield at Kandahar. Mortar fire, rockets and ground action around the perimeter marked the event. Evidently this went on for some hours. ….. This follows on a recent Taliban declaration of their intention to conduct a Spring offensive. In that context, there have been attacks in Kabul, and ambitious and successful ambushes of vehicular convoys. So far, the opposition is not “fixed” in the military sense of “finding, fixing and finishing” the enemy. “Fixing” here means that the enemy must be dominated and held in position while the process is brought to end. That does not seem to be happening. This is a bad portent for the future.

I keep saying that the preliminary COIN effort at Marja is a predictor of what the likely prospects are for COIN success at Kandahar and elsewhere around the country. Where is the news from Marja?

Time is short. William Hague, the new British foreign minister urges the US not to withdraw “too soon” from Afghanistan. That is easy for him to say. His government is new and not yet scarred. The horizon seems far away just now. For President Obama the horizon is close and approaching fast. We have learned now that Obama recognized during the Afghan policy debate that the generals and admirals were trying to “roll” him for what they wanted. They wanted a long COIN war in Afghanistan with an open ended commitment to that war. He called Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates to his office and summoned them to subordination. The threat behind that was obvious. In spite of that he gave them much of what they wanted, but with a caveat driven by his political need to start the end of the war before November, 2012.

That clock is ticking. The Afghan insurgents can hear it ticking. The generals do not have the time they would need to make their strategy work.

The West Point commencement speech yesterday was interesting. It becomes increasingly obvious that Obama is both a social democrat and an internationalist in the classic old mold. These are heavy political burdens for a candidate to bear these days. He will not be able to bear an additional burden in Afghanistan in 2012.”

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Taliban Attack Qandahar Airfield; Parliament goes on Strike

May 23rd, 2010 Comments off

Guerrillas fired mortar shells and used small arms to attack the major US military base in south Afghanistan, Qandahar Airfield, on Saturday. The operation was the third major attack by insurgents during the past week. They had also attacked a NATO convoy in the capital, Kabul, and had attacked Bagram Base north of Kabul. The seven hours long assault on Bagram was a by a company-sized unit of some 30 armed men, who managed to kill a contractor and wound 9 US or NATO troops, while all 16 of them were killed in heavy fighting. The attacks have pushed the death toll for US troops in Afghanistan past the 1000 mark.

The bold attacks come as President Barack Obama addressed West Point cadets, declaring victory in Iraq and predicting a similar positive outcome in Afghanistan. Obama alleged that the US was withdrawing from a now-democratic Iraq that would not be a platform for attacking the US, implying that Afghanistan would be brought to a similar end-state. But Iraq is highly unstable, has not formed a new government more than two months after the March 7 elections, and cannot exactly be called either democratic or secure and stable. If Iraq is Obama’s measure of success in Afghanistan, he has very low expectations.

At the same time, US and NATO troops began a sweep of a Qandahar neighborhood. The 200 US troops and about 200 – 250 Afghanistan National Army troops conducted door to door searches. The operation is seen as a dry run for a huge push on Qandahar by NATO this summer. This province is, along with Helmand, a major center of poppies-grown for opium and ideologically tends to support or at least think well of the old Taliban of Mulla Omar. Karen DeYoung of WaPo reports on the doubts even in the Pentagon that a ‘clearing campaign’ targeting Taliban in Qandahar can succeed.

Meanwhile, a long-running feud between the lower house of parliament and the Karzai government came to a boil on Saturday as the MPs went on strike, according to Pajhwok News Agency. President Karzai had missed the deadline for presenting to parliament his nominations for the 11 remaining cabinet posts in his government. In reaction, the lower house went on strike.

Pajhwok writes, “Chairman Muhammad Younus Qanuni said no session of any commission would be held until the ministers were introduced. An MP from the western Badghis province, Azita Rafat, said the delay in introducing the remaining cabinet members had worsened relations between parliament and the government. “The government neither respects the votes of the nation nor us,” she said.”

Speaker Yunus Qanuni is a Tajik former member of the Northern Alliance and is close to Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s main rival in last summer’s presidential election. Since Abdullah’s supporters generally believe that Karzai stole the election, it is now difficult for him to achieve better relations with parliament. That any resolution of the crisis in Afghanistan will ultimately have to be political in character is widely recognized. But how to get a political settlement when the executive and the legislature are themselves at daggers drawn is not clear.

Aljazeera English reports on the Taliban and US/NATO campaigns this week in Afghanistan:

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Taliban flex muscle amid US troop surge

May 21st, 2010 Comments off

The recent Taliban-claimed attack in Kabul that claimed the life of a Canadian Forces colonel, and which the National Post says marks a “new turn” in the war, was quickly followed by a Taliban attack on nearby Bagram airbase, a major American installment. The pair of attacks has prompted some observers to declare that the Taliban’s Spring offensive has begun.

Mustafa Qadri writes for the Guardian’s site that the Taliban are seen as freedom fighters by many Afghan Pashtuns:

Taliban: the indistinguishable enemy

MAY 16 – They may be repressive fanatics who enslave women and give sanctuary to al-Qaida, but the US-led occupation of Afghanistan has transformed the Taliban into Pashtun freedom fighters. There are two principal reasons for this.

First, despite our best attempts, the foreign troops and the state they prop up are viewed as outsiders who have come not to liberate the country but subjugate it.

Second, so long as our presence in Afghanistan is primarily military, our relationship to ordinary Afghans will be based primarily on violence. Armies, by their very nature, must intimidate and coerce the population into accepting their authority. Despite the talk of winning hearts and minds and civilian surges, much of what we do in Afghanistan creates fear and hostility. …

The problem for foreign powers in a foreign land is their limited interest in the welfare of the people whose lands they occupy. There can be no sustainable resolution of the current violence, however, unless and until the locals take the lead in looking for political solutions. (link)

Julian E. Barnes reporting for the Los Angeles Times discusses recent indications that the Taliban-led insurgency is not disappearing in the face of President Obama’s military surge. The surge, which is expected to peak in September, is in fact the fourth troops increase which the Afghanistan war has seen. All of the previous ones have resulted in heightened violence.

Afghan Taliban getting stronger, Pentagon says
A Pentagon assessment, while expressing confidence in U.S. strategy, says the movement has flourished despite repeated assaults.

WASHINGTON, April 29 (L.A. Times) – A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants’ heartland.

The report, requested by Congress … concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai’s government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes. …

A senior Defense official who briefed reporters on the report said violence increased last year in part because of the additional U.S. troops. …

The report also notes that insurgents’ tactics are increasing in sophistication and the militants have also become more able to achieve broader strategic effects with successful attacks. … (link)

And an Associated Press report cites the Red Cross in shedding some light on the extent of insecurity in southern Afghanistan. Note that insurgents are not the only source of insecurity, as personal and tribal rivalries also commonly break out into armed clashes. These rivalries are often fueled by the accoutrements of the US-led war and occupation of Afghanistan.

UN refugee chief: Security worse in Afghanistan, foreign staff can’t access half of country

GENEVA, May 5 (AP) – Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months to the extent that foreign staff of the U.N.’s refugee agency are unable to travel to half of the country, its top official said Wednesday.

The agency has to rely on local staff or Afghan partner organizations to reach tens of thousands of displaced people and returning refugees it is trying to aid, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

“There was a worsening security situation in the recent past,” he told reporters in Geneva. “Access of our international staff to the territory is now limited to about 50 percent.”

Last month the United Nations announced it had relocated several foreign employees from the southern city of Kandahar to Kabul and told more than 200 Afghan workers to stay home after security threats.

Guterres said aid workers have become targets for violence in part because the distinction between the foreign military and humanitarian groups has been blurred. … (link)

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America’s Extended Hand

May 20th, 2010 Comments off

Yesterday afternoon CNAS released another of the papers which has been keeping me away from the blog:   America’s Extended Hand:  An Assessment of the Obama Administration’s Global Engagement Strategy, written with my former Elliott School colleague and current CNAS Vice President Kristin Lord. This report started out with a meeting I convened in September with a group of high-level administration officials to talk about the follow-up to Cairo and the overall approach to public diplomacy.   Kristin and I originally planned to do a 5 page policy brief, but then it began to grow. We ended up talking to around 50 current and former government officials involved with public diplomacy and strategic communications, and greatly expanding the scope of the analysis. America’s Extended Hand presents a comprehensive overview of how the Obama administration thinks about public engagement, how it has attempted to reorganize the government to deliver on that vision, and how it has performed across a number of crucial issues (including Muslim engagement, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran, China, democracy promotion, and combating violent extremism).  

We argue that the administration has succeeded in its initial goal of "re-starting" America’s relations with global publics, taking advantage of the fresh start offered by the Presidential transition, and has effectively used President Obama’s particular gifts to focus attention and global debate on issues which he has identified as key American priorities. The administration has been less successful, however, at executing engagement campaigns in support of specific tactical objectives, at adapting to changing circumstances and at meeting the high expectations generated by those speeches. With a palpable sense of the Obama bubble deflating, and a pernicious consensus emerging of a "say-do" gap in which the U.S. fails to deliver on its highly public promises, we urge the administration to do more to prepare the ground and to follow through on its engagement.  

America’s Extended Hand goes into considerable detail about the administration’s philosophy, its efforts to reshape the inter-agency process and individual government agencies (from the Defense Department and State Department to the NSC and the BBG), and its efforts across a range of issue areas.  And it makes a number of specific recommendations for how to adapt to the emerging second phase of the administration’s foreign policy.  I’m not going to rehearse all of that detail here — if you’re interested in America’s public diplomacy and strategic communications, download the paper here from the CNAS website.   This report has been a long time in the making — I look forward to feedback and debate! 

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India, China Stepping Up Training in Afghanistan?

May 19th, 2010 Comments off

An interesting piece in The National datelined New Delhi and indicating that India and China are both looking at increasing their training presence in Afghanistan, looking towards the day the US withdraws.

India has, of course, long had an involvement in Afghanistan, usually either covert or at least mostly under-the-radar, since it clearly sees a need to offset Pakistani influence in the country. China is a bit less obvious, but it is certainly concerned with the role the Taliban and Al-Qa‘ida have played in encouraging radicalization of China’s Uighur (East Turkestani) separatists in Xinjiang.

It’s a reminder that the Great Game in Central Asia is still very much afoot, and will be when the US leaves as well.

Halford Mackinder, please call your office.

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Kabul Blast Kills 19, Wounds 52; 5 US Troops Dead

May 18th, 2010 Comments off

The BBC is reporting that Afghan guerrillas deployed a suicide car bomb against a NATO military convoy in west Kabul near the parliament building Tuesday morning, killing at least 19 persons and wounding 52. Five US troops are said among the dead.

Courtesy Radio Azadi

The enormous fireball destroyed twenty vehicles. Spokesman for the Old Taliban of Mullah Omar, Zabihullah Mujahid, phoned AP to claim that a Kabul resident belonging to his organization was responsible.

Radio Azadi reporting in Dari Persian says that Gen. Khalilullah Dastyar, aide to the security commander for Kabul province, revealed that a number of women, children and elderly persons were among the civilian dead. RA reports an eyewitness account: “My name is Ahmad Yaktan, resident of the capital. When the explosion occurred I was near this very place. I saw that a large number of persons were wounded or killed. Ambulances carried away the wounded, most of whom were local Afghans.”

Courtesy Radio Azadi

NATO convoys are often targeted in the countryside with roadside bombs and suicide attacks, but such an operation in that part of Kabul against a hard rather than a soft target is unusually bold and may show increased military capacity among the militants opposed to foreign troop presence in Afghanistan. This was said to be the deadliest assault on NATO soldiers in Kabul since last September.

The daring bombing comes at a time when Obama administration policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to be unravelling, as detailed by Tom Engelhardt.

The attack in the capital follows a number of operations in the south and east of the country by guerrillas, including the assassination of a prominent Sunni Pashtun cleric in Kunar Province who had urged reconciliation with the Karzai government and the laying down of arms, as well as a motorcycle-bombing at a prison in the southern city of Qandahar, which killed 3.

Late last week a nighttime US raid in the eastern Nangarhar province that locals maintained had gone awry and killed innocents set off province-wide demonstrations demanding that the Yankees go home. This is the second time coordinated civilian protests were mounted in Nangarhar against the US military presence in recent weeks. Similar rallies were held in late April when the US killed the relative of a female member of parliament from the province.

There has apparently been continued hard fighting in Helmand Province in the country’s southwest, the site of the Marjah campaign this winter. The Defense Department’s recently released list of US troops killed shows 10 killed in action just last week, most of them in Helmand:

•Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Davis, 19, of Perry, Iowa, died May 7 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

•Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Rangel, 22, of San Antonio died May 6 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province.

•Army Capt. Kyle A. Comfort, 27, of Jacksonville, Ala., died May 8 in Helmand province of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit.

•Marine Cpl. Kurt S. Shea, 21, of Frederick, Md., died May 10 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province. This incident is under investigation.

•Army Spc. Jeremy L. Brown, 20, of McMinnville, Tenn., died May 9 at Contingency Outpost Zerok, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit.

•Two Marines died May 11 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province: Marine Cpl. Jeffery W. Johnson, 21, of Tomball, Texas; and Marine Sgt. Kenneth B. May, Jr., 26, of Kilgore, Texas.

•Marine Sgt. Donald J. Lamar II, 23, of Fredericksburg, Va., died May 12 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

•Marine Sgt. Joshua D. Desforges, 23, of Ludlow, Mass., died May 12 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province.

•Army Spc. Denis D. Kisseloff, 45, of Saint Charles, Mo., died May 14 at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using rocket propelled grenades and small arms fires.

This despite the confident assessment often heard in Washington that Marjah was a “success” on which a Qandahar campaign could now build. Marjah is a rural set of farm houses with a population in the tens of thousands, Qandahar a city of 800,000, the size of Detroit. NATO commanders see the planned campaign as essential to turn the tide against the Old Taliban, even though they admit that it is a purely Afghan political force and there is “zero al-Qaeda” in the area. That such an operation may turn Afghans in the region even more firmly against the US doesn’t seem to be contemplated.

Britain’s Channel Four reports on the increasing use by Americans and by Ahmad Wali Karzai of militias and irregular forces, some of which have engaged in lawlessness that further alienates the population:

For the impact of these wars on the troops, see PBS Frontline Tuesday in the US (ad to the right).

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Turki al-Faisal Slams US Policy in Afghanistan

May 17th, 2010 Comments off

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, longtime head of Saudi Intelligence and later Ambassador to London and Washington, has given a speech in which he sharply criticized US policies in Afghanistan. He has argued that US policy towards Hamid Karzai “beggars disbelief and amazement. Both sides are now filled with resentment and a sour taste in their mouths.”

For a figure with such close ties to the US, it’s a sharp critique. He urges the US to “get the terrorists, declare victory, and get out.” Here’s the longer version:

Afghanistan has a special place in my heart. I not only love the country and its people, but I also believe that it has not been given its due of peace and prosperity. It is a clear example of unilateral and naked ambition on the part of a former super power to change the status quo without regard to moral principle, international law, or human consideration. Alas, we have seen that repeated in Iraq by the other super power. What Afghanistan needs, now, is a shift from nation building to effectively countering terrorists. The point has been made that America and the rest of the world cannot accept that any country be the launching ground of terrorist activity as Afghanistan was from 1997 until today. The moral high ground which America acquired after September 11th has been dissipated since then because of American negligence, ignorance, and arrogance. Mr. Obama’s declared policy in Afghanistan is to go after the terrorists. He should do so. He should not be misdirected into believing that he can fix Afghanistan’s ills by military means. Hunt down the terrorists on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, arrest them or kill them, and get out; and let the Afghan people deal with their problems. As long as GI boots remain on Afghan soil, they remain targets of resistance for the Afghan people and ideological mercenaries. The inept way in which this Administration has dealt with President Karzai beggars disbelief and amazement. Both sides are now filled with resentment and a sour taste in their mouths. How can they both get out of that situation, I don’t know. Nor can I pretend that future resentment and bad taste will not happen. The attempts being made now are a step in the right direction. That is why I suggest that America get the terrorists, declare victory, and get out. The Taliban of today are no longer the exclusively Pashtun warriors who ruled Afghanistan until 2002. They are now any and every Afghan of whatever ilk who raises arms against the foreign invaders. By declaring them the enemy, America has declared the people of Afghanistan the enemy. Here also, there should be no more platitudes and good wishes. Boots on the ground, chasing the terrorists is what is needed.

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"…It will have to get much more catastrophic around the world to get a debate in the US on the pro-Israel influence…"

May 16th, 2010 Comments off

“a catastrophic political failure (for the U.S.A.)” Anna Missed, 1. This is what those of us opposed to the Bush policy were saying in 2002. But Washington wants to listen to “pro-Israel” advice and conduct “pro-Israel” foreign policy. My own view is that it will have to get considerably more catastrophic around the world to get a minimal debate going in the US on the real problem of pro-Israel influence in the US (PRECISELY!). And it is, perhaps, too late for that anyways. 2. Prince Turki’s speech to diplomats in Riyadh seems to be almost screened out of US media. Here is a report in extenso from Agence France Presse: “RIYADH (AFP) – An “inept” United States cannot fix Afghanistan’s problems and should simply focus on “chasing the terrorists” there, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said on Saturday. The ex-ambassador to the United States also challenged Washington to produce results in just-started Middle East peace talks, and accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of undermining efforts to make the region nuclear-free. In a speech in Riyadh before diplomats, Turki said US-led NATO troops had irrevocably alienated the Afghan people and had no hope of rebuilding the country. “What Afghanistan needs now is a shift from nation-building to effectively countering terrorists,” Turki told the Arab News conference. US President Barack Obama “should not be misdirected into believing that he can fix Afghanistan’s ills by military means.”
“Hunt down the terrorists on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, arrest them or kill them, and get out, and let the Afghan people deal with their problems. “As long as GI boots remain on Afghan soil, they remain targets of resistance for the Afghan people and ideological mercenaries.” Turki, who has long served a central role in Saudi-Afghan relations, scolded Washington’s handling of relations with Kabul. “The inept way in which this administration has dealt with President (Hamid) Karzai beggars disbelief and amazement. “Both sides are now filled with resentment and a sour taste in their mouths,” he said. “How can they both get out of that situation? I don’t know.”
The chairman of the King Faisal Center For Research and Islamic Studies, Turki has no official position but is believed to often reflect high level thinking in the Saudi government. He is the brother of Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, and analysts speculate he could become foreign minister when Saud retires. Turki said Arab states have given Washington four months to show progress in US-guided Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. “The Arab world has given Obama until September to get things done,” said Turki. “It is not enough to talk the talk. He has to walk the walk. “If he does not succeed… then I (will) ask President Obama to do the morally decent gesture and recognise the Palestinian state that he so ardently wishes to exist. “He can then pack up and leave us in peace and let the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese negotiate directly with the Israelis. No more platitudes and good wishes and visions, please.” Turki also faulted the US and European approach in trying to halt Iran’s alleged efforts to build a nuclear weapon. “The discussions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions started off on the wrong foot. The carrot and stick approach does not work,” he said. For one, he said, the US and Europe have had double-standards in dealing with Iran on the one hand, and other nuclear countries on the other. “You cannot ask Iran to play on one level while you allow Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea to play on other levels.” Turki said a successful strategy toward Iran requires even-handedness, a “universal nuclear security umbrella” for the countries in the area, and “a good military option” against any regional country which does not cooperate. He said Clinton had undermined efforts to move toward a regional nuclear-free zone, after the UN Security Council’s five permanent members recently expressed support for the idea. “Alas… Clinton then voided the issue of its value by stating that the conditions do not yet exist for establishing the zone,” he said. “Why, then, did she join the other members of the P5 in issuing their statement?” Turki said he hoped Obama “will find the way to correct his secretary of state’s nullification of making our area free of weapons of mass destruction.” Turki also warned of rising violence in Iraq after the pullout of US troops next year, warning both internal and external groups seek to carve up the country. “Imagine what will happen once internal strife and fighting escalates” following the US pullout, he said. Without a UN Security Council effort to protect Iraq’s current borders, the consequence could be “regional conflict on a scale not seen since the Ottoman-Safavid wars of the 17th and 18th centuries,” he warned.
3. Anyone notice the Russian leader’s visit to Syria?…or Turkey’s new Hawk missile installations said to be readied against Israeli or other violations of its airspace??? Clifford Kiracofe

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