Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Taliban Win in Swat

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times gives us an important perspective on the Taliban victory in Swat where Sharia law was instituted and a truce called.

In Malakand, which includes the Swat area, the militants are a part of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban and the vanguard of the Taliban’s cause in the region against Western occupation forces in Afghanistan and their ally – Pakistan. They have established their own writ with a parallel system that includes courts, police and even a electric power-distribution network and road construction, and all this is now official in the eyes of Islamabad.

All intelligence indicated that further concentration on military operations in Swat could lead to an expansion of the war theater into Pakistan’s non-Pashtun cities, such as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. The security forces were already stretched and even faced rebellions.

These combined factors culminated in Monday’s peace agreement, which is a major defeat for Washington as well as Pakistan, and it could also lead to a major setback for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Afghanistan come spring when hordes of better-trained fighters from Swat pour into Afghanistan …

The developments in Malakand division coincide with the arrival in Afghanistan of close to 3,000 American soldiers as part of an extra 30,000 to boost the already 30,000 US troops in the country. The new contingent will be deployed in Logar province to secure violent provinces near the capital Kabul. Petraeus must now be thinking of how many more troops he will need to confront the additional Taliban fighters that will come from Malakand.

There is much more at the link to the Asia Times commentary, but basically, Shahzad is correct.  Implementation of Sharia law is only part of the deal.  The Pakistani Army will leave.  The institutions set up by the Taliban are now formalized and official, recognized by the Pakistani government.  Given the proximity of Swat to Afghanistan, safe haven for the Taliban doesn’t even begin to explain the depths of the problem.  The problem goes not only to territory and terrain, but preoccupation of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP).

Although not exclusively, the TTP has primarily been disposed with fights inside of the North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  They are now no longer occupied with fights with the Pakistani Army.

These fighters are now free to engage U.S. troops, and thus has Pakistan traded off its “security” for that of Afghanistan.  And the campaign in Afghanistan has just gotten a little harder.  Now.  How about all of those dignitaries summoned to Sharia court by the Taliban in Swat?  Had the Pakistani negotiators forgotten about that?

One final thing.  Sufi Mohammad … will soon travel to Matta, a sub-district of Swat, to visit his son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah (the Tehrik-i-Taliban commander in Swat) to try to persuade him to end the insurgency.  Of course he’ll be happy to oblige.

We’re not going to run out of people to kill!

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Back in the days when The Captain’s Journal was arguing with General Rodriguez about the badly devolving security situation in Afghanistan it was difficult to see around the bend to a brighter future.  But General McKiernan is showing the way.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan offered a grim view Wednesday of military efforts in southern Afghanistan, warning that 17,000 new troops will take on emboldened Taliban insurgents who have “stalemated” U.S. and allied forces.

Army Gen. David McKiernan also predicted that the bolstered numbers of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan – about 55,000 in all – will remain near those levels for up to five years.

Still, McKiernan said, that is only about two-thirds of the number of troops he has requested to secure the war-torn nation.

McKiernan told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that the extra Army and Marine forces will be in place by the summer, primed for counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban but also ready to conduct training with Afghan police forces.

McKiernan said what the surge “allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are, at best, stalemated.

“I’m not here to tell you that there’s not an increased level of violence, because there is,” he said.

The 17,000 additional troops, which President Barack Obama approved Tuesday to begin deploying this spring, will join an estimated 38,000 already in Afghanistan.

Another 10,000 U.S. soldiers could be headed to Afghanistan in the future as the Obama administration decides how to balance its troop levels with those from other nations and the Afghan army. The White House has said it will not make further decisions about its next moves in Afghanistan until it has completed a strategic review of the war, in tandem with the Afghan government.

Whatever the outcome of the review, McKiernan said, “we know we need additional means in Afghanistan, whether they are security or governance-related or socioeconomic-related.”

The estimated level of 55,000 troops needs “to be sustained for some period of time,” he said, adding that could be as long as three to five years.

Actually, we have called for more.

Properly resourcing the campaign will require at least – but not limited to – three Marine Regimental Combat Teams (outfitted with V-22s, Harriers and all of the RCT support staff) and three Brigades (preferably at least one or two of which are highly mobile, rapid reaction Stryker Brigades).  These forces must be deployed in the East and South and especially along the border, brought out from under the control of NATO and reporting only to CENTCOM.

The command has been changed as we had hoped and U.S. troops now report to CENTCOM, but we still need more troops.  John Nagl has called for as many as 600,000 troops.  So how can all of this be considered a “brighter future?”  Simple.  We are now being honest with ourselves about the campaign.

General McKiernan then makes the following head-turning statement.  “We’re not going to run out of people that either international forces or Afghan forces have to kill or capture.”  He adds that “ultimately, the conflict will be solved not by military force – but through the political will of the Afghan people.”

McKiernan is right of course about the will of the Afghan people being determinative in the campaign, and of course counterinsurgency experts are right to note that the application of soft power is a necessary corollary to kinetics.

But take careful note of the General’s sobering words: “We’re not going to run out of people that either international forces or Afghan forces have to kill or capture.”  Reliance on cheap, manufactured copies of the Anbar awakening, splitting off the “moderate” Taliban from the irreconcilables, and new electrical distribution systems is whistling through the grave yard.  There are hard core kinetic operations that await us, and this is going to get a lot harder before it gets easier.

How Fast Can NATO Surrender to the Taliban?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

In a little known and poorly publicized report on the Danish part of the NATO effort in Afghanistan, they have begun to negotiate with the Taliban on their own.

Danish soldiers in Afghanistan have begun negotiating with the Taliban to try to break the deadlock there, a newspaper reported Monday, as a poll suggested most Danes considered the war unwinnable.

Troops had been holding talks with the Taliban as wiping out the insurgency was proving so difficult, a Danish officer told the Jyllands-Posten daily.

“We have already held several meetings with local chiefs where the Taliban were represented,” Lieutenant Colonel Bjarne Hoejgaard told the paper after a six-month mission in Afghanistan.

“We cannot get around it. We must intensify the dialogue and the negotiations with the Taliban if we want to have peace in Afghanistan, because we cannot eliminate the enemy,” he said.

This report was also picked up by the Globe and Mail.  Oh, and Hamid Karzai saw it as well.  The report apparently got his panties in a wad, because he responded that only the “government” in Kabul would be allowed to surrender to, um, negotiate with the Taliban.

Talks with Taliban insurgents must only take place through Afghan government channels, President Hamid Karzai’s office warned Tuesday after reports surfaced of dialogue led by Danish soldiers.

Presidential spokesman Homayun Hamidzada told reporters he was unaware of a report in a newspaper, which cited a Danish officer saying that Taliban were represented at soldiers’ talks with local chiefs.

“We must intensify the dialogue and the negotiations with the Taliban if we want to have peace in Afghanistan, because we cannot eliminate the enemy,” the lieutenant colonel was quoted as saying on Monday after a six-month mission.

Asked about the report, Hamidzada said he had not seen it.

“But the policy of the Afghanistan government is, any talks or dialogue should take place through government, not by the friendly countries who have a presence in Afghanistan,” he said.

Remember, Karzai is the one who said directly to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar ‘My brother, my dear, come back to your homeland. Come back and work for peace, for the good of the Afghan people. Stop this business of brothers killing brothers’.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recently said that the NATO effort must be expanded in Afghanistan, and that this effort must not be seen as an “American” war.  But with such attitudes among the NATO “warriors” who serve there, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which it won’t become America’s campaign, good or bad.

Prior: Petraeus on Pursuing the Enemy

Zardari, Pakistan and Belief in the War

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

In order to stop the violence in Pakistan’s Swat valley of the North West Frontier Province, or so the government of Pakistan hopes, a deal has been struck to turn over Swat to fudamentalist Sharia law.  Zardari still believes that the Taliban problem poses the greatest risk to the survival of Pakistan, and in this he is correct.  The Taliban must be eliminated, he says.

But the analysis is basically correct.  While Zardari believes that the Taliban are the real threat to Pakistan’s existence, Pakistan still does not.  Zardari cannot wage the war against the Taliban – the Army and ISI are needed, and since they are still convinced that this is an American war, the deal has been struck with the Taliban.  Note the nuance with which Pakistan’s Foreign Minister deals with the issue.


This notion of reconcilable Taliban versus irreconcilable Taliban is a convenient excuse for turning off the war.  There may be those irreconcilables out there, but The Captain’s Journal believes that there are relatively few of them.  Another way of saying it is that the ones who have perpetrated the violence will continue to perpetrate the violence.  The tenacity and commitment to the mission is evidence of their intentions.

As for the Pakistani Army and the ISI, as we discussed about five months ago, there is duplicitous behavior taking place.

ONE SWELTERING AFTERNOON in July, I ventured into the elegant home of a former Pakistani official who recently retired after several years of serving in senior government posts. We sat in his book-lined study. A servant brought us tea and biscuits.

Was it the obsession with India that led the Pakistani military to support the Taliban? I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

Or is it the anti-Americanism and pro-Islamic feelings in the army?

“Yes,” he said, that too.

And then the retired Pakistani official offered another explanation — one that he said could never be discussed in public. The reason the Pakistani security services support the Taliban, he said, is for money: after the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistani military concluded that keeping the Taliban alive was the surest way to win billions of dollars in aid that Pakistan needed to survive. The military’s complicated relationship with the Taliban is part of what the official called the Pakistani military’s “strategic games.” Like other Pakistanis, this former senior official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of what he was telling me.

“Pakistan is dependent on the American money that these games with the Taliban generate,” the official told me. “The Pakistani economy would collapse without it. This is how the game works.”

As an example, he cited the Pakistan Army’s first invasion of the tribal areas — of South Waziristan in 2004. Called Operation Shakai, the offensive was ostensibly aimed at ridding the area of Taliban militants. From an American perspective, the operation was a total failure. The army invaded, fought and then made a deal with one of the militant commanders, Nek Mohammed. The agreement was capped by a dramatic meeting between Mohammed and Safdar Hussein, one of the most senior officers in the Pakistan Army.

“The corps commander was flown in on a helicopter,” the former official said. “They had this big ceremony, and they embraced. They called each other mujahids. ”

“Mujahid” is the Arabic word for “holy warrior.” The ceremony, in fact, was captured on videotape, and the tape has been widely distributed.

“The army agreed to compensate the locals for collateral damage,” the official said. “Where do you think that money went? It went to the Taliban. Who do you think paid the bill? The Americans. This is the way the game works. The Taliban is attacked, but it is never destroyed.

Whatever the motivation – money or as a buffer against India – the Army is not eliminating the Taliban as Zardari had hoped.  Counterinsurgency tactics can be learned, but belief and volition must underlie the Army’s actions for the campaign to be anything other than for show.  Thus continue the Talibanization of Pakistan.

Prior: Pashtun Rejection of the Global War on Terror

Bad Form in Counterinsurgency Debates

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Andrew Exum blogging at Abu Muqawama has a piece up on who he perceives to be the winner and losers in Tom Ricks’ new book The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008.  I personally like Andrew and have enjoyed the exchanges I have had with him, via e-mail and in blog articles.  But let’s deal with a few items from this post by Andrew.

First, one of the “losers” is determined to be Colonel Gian Gentile who commanded a Battalion in Baghdad in 2006.  Tom Ricks judges the performance of his unit to be “actually quite poor.”  Major General Hammond is cited saying “Gentile had a different stance. It was night and day. He was FOB-centric. We are JSS-centric.”

Well, do tell.  Actually, I judge the performance of books that promulgate myths to be poor.  I have not read the book because Tom hasn’t sent me a free copy to review.  Had he sent me a copy I would have responded.  As a matter of fact, I haven’t even been able to get Tom to respond to a single e-mail.  But if Tom’s book advocates the idea that the campaign was won by jettisoning the notion of FOB-centric counterinsurgency and embracing Combat Outposts (or Joint Security Stations), then it is an exercise in simplistic myth-telling.

We have dealt with this before, this notion of a simple, one line narrative for Iraq.  The country, the security situation, the units, the commanders, and the enemy was simply too diverse for a one-size-fits-all narrative.  Even as late as the middle of 2007 operations were conducted in Fallujah, Anbar that were essentially FOB-centric.  The Marines in Operation Alljah would spend some time at JSS, but rotate in and out of them, never spending more than about two or three weeks per rotation.  The FOB was the main strategy for force protection, and yet the Marines still spent most of their time interacting with the population no matter where they garrisoned (heavy census operations, heavy patrolling, and especially heavy kinetic operations).  These operations were so successful that many high level visitors were received to discuss the methods, including the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

To say that a commander is FOB-centric is to say nothing more than he is committed to force protection.  It means nothing regarding the ability to do counterinsurgency.  And so now we have let the cat out of the bag, haven’t we?  There it is.  The great myth.  Now, let’s distinguish between levels.  Currently much of the Army in Afghanistan is cloistered into huge FOBs and left without much contact with the population.  Let’s contrast that the right way to do it.  In Opening a Combat Outpost for Business, we listened as the Marines built their force protection.

Marines with 2nd Platoon, Motor Transportation Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 3, conducted multiple combat logistics patrols in support of Operation Gateway III in Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, 2009.

The logistics combat element Marines, part of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, endured more than two weeks behind their steering wheels and gun turrets in improvised explosive device-laden terrain during the initial phases of the operation.  Military planners with SPMAGTF-A designed Operation Gateway III as a deliberate plan to clear southern Afghanistan’s Route 515 of any existing IED and insurgent threats on the important east-west route.

The combat logisticians directly supported 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of SPMAGTF-A, with the essential supplies and construction support necessary to erect three combat outposts at strategic locations along Route 515.  In a limited amount of time, the three locations were successfully developed from barren land into safe havens for the 3/8 Marines occupying the area.

“Ultimately I was surprised,” said Staff Sgt. Chris O. Ross, platoon sergeant. “The COPs were built quickly, and the Marines were working overtime to do it.”

Ross also said the timing and coordination required to conduct the operation came together well.

Second Lt. Juliann C. Naughton, 2nd Platoon’s convoy commander, explained it’s shocking for the locals to wake up the next morning to see that a military outpost has appeared from nowhere during the course of the night.

“The logistical support was a success, and we delivered the materials in a timely manner,” Naughton said. “We’ve also been interacting with the villagers and letting them know why we’re here.”

Fortifications including concertina wire, a parapet several feet tall and dirt-filled protective barriers ensured the Marines on the interior of the COPs were shielded from outside threats. Multiple observation posts and several heavy and medium machine guns provided security and over-watch for the combat logisticians as they performed their craft.

The interior of the COPs offer living quarters, hygiene facilities, combat operations centers and more to accommodate its current and future residents.

The posts were strategically placed along the route to show an alliance presence, as well as enable safe travel.

And thus can it be done successfully, this notion of force protection combined with contact with the population.  To set them in juxtaposition as opposites or somehow mutually exclusive is the grand myth around which the narrative of the surge is being built.  In reality, the situation was more complicated, a subject we covered in The Surge.

Second, Gian Gentile asks Tom in the comments of this post at Abu Muqawama:

Ref your book Fiasco, which at the end you spend about a page talking about my unit, 8-10 Cav. In Fiasco you said this about my unit and what we were doing in 2006:

“… overall the US effort was characterized by a more careful, purposeful style.”

you even went on to praise a simple tactic of slow mounted movement that we adopted and noted that

“it was less disruptive to the Iraqis and sends a message of calm, control…”

OK, you were not saying that Gentile was the next Galula, that they were on the way to winning the war by themselves. But clearly your impression was positive, at least the way you portrayed us in Fiasco.

Then The Gamble comes along and in it you become a harsh critic of my unit’s performance (and that criticism was based on the same embed tour that you did with us in early February). So what changed between the two books?

To which Tom responds thusly:

‘what changed between the two books?’

A small civil war, and the prospect of defeat.

So there you have it.  One may ask rhetorically what this has to do with Gian Gentile, and the obvious answer is nothing whatsoever.  So we may conclude that Tom doesn’t have a good answer for what happened between the two books.

Third, as for Gian, he and I have slightly disagreed and nuanced our arguments to come to agreement elsewhere, such as with Sadr (I believe that marginalization of his forces did him in, and that he wouldn’t have been alive anyway had the 3/2 Marines had their way, as he was under their custody in 2004) and the Sons of Iraq and pay to participate (which saw robust use in the Anbar province in 2007 as it should have).

But Gian is a great American and a warrior-scholar, and to place him in the category of “loser” as Andrew does is simply bad form.  There is no excuse for it.  Again, I like Andrew, but he seems to have bought into the Gnostic version of counterinsurgency.  Only a few “get it,” and the rest of us should simply be consigned to the doofus category in counterinsurgency.  Such may be the indiscretions of youth.

Andrew is a bright young man and his contributions to this discipline in the future will be enormous.  But with this authority comes responsibility.  Andrew should be circumspect with his thoughts.  Gian doesn’t advocate jettisoning counterinsurgency doctrine, any more than he wishes to lose the campaigns in which we are engaged.  Gian wants to be prepared for the future, no matter what that may bring.  It was a very wise man who once said:

“For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers” (Proverbs 24:6, NIV).

See also: The Man in the Arena, Small Wars Journal Blog

On the Front Lines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Jim Landers of the Dallas News is on the front line with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.  All of his observations are interesting, but there are two that are particularly poignant.

KALAGU, Afghanistan – Sgt. Corey Tack guns the engine of the 18-ton armored truck up a snow-streaked, gravelly hill. He parks on a spot with a commanding view of the valley between white, jagged mountains. Sgt. Oscar Macias opens the 400-pound back door and jumps out.

Facing a night of midteen temperatures and heavy frost, the soldiers start digging holes for their sleeping bags.

“A mortar hits in the middle here, bang, we’re all dead,” said Macias, from Rio Hondo, Texas. “But if it hits over there, you’ll be in a hole and the shrapnel will go over your head.”

The confident, weather-burned faces of these soldiers tell a story. They’re battle-tested and undefeated. They sense the enemy knows and avoids their truck with its red-and-white banners that read “Hooligans.” But they also know they are not winning the battle against insurgents in Afghanistan.

“When I first rolled in, it was kill everybody and everything,” Macias said with exaggeration.

No more.

Even if you do take their leaders out, there’s always somebody else to replace them,” he said.

These Cavalry Scouts say there aren’t enough American troops here to cover a country the size of Texas.

They know their enemies roam unchecked across much of the bleak high plains. They know the enemy is winning on the information front, spreading propaganda about U.S. soldiers smashing down doors in the middle of the night to rape, pillage and murder.

To win, they know they have to hand over security to their Afghan counterparts, who often come to a fight ill-equipped and stoned on hashish.

The hash smoking “happens a lot – more than I know or want to know,” said Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Kobel, a Lewiston, Maine, firefighter with the Vermont National Guard who is training Afghan soldiers here. “It’s like, you learn there’s an accepted level of corruption. Well, there’s also an accepted level of drug abuse, too. It’s part of their culture.”

Macias’ observation runs right in line with reports to The Captain’s Journal from field grade officers in Afghanistan.  Kill a mid-level Taliban commander, and they stay low for a few weeks to regroup and realign.  Then the violence starts again, and the cycle continues.  The Special Operations Forces campaign against high value targets, however effective it might have been to get us far enough to stand down troops in Iraq and switch focus to Afghanistan, is now failing us.  A HVT campaign is no replacement for counterinsurgency.

We have previously commented on the corruption in Afghanistan and how it will cause the campaign to fail if it proceeds unchecked (because it legitimizes the Taliban shadow government).  But we learn something new with Landers’ report from the front lines.  Hash smoking is not only rampant within Afghan culture (we knew this), but the Afghan Army doesn’t control it among their own.

This is yet another example of reverse legitimacy.  It would almost be better for the population not to see the Afghan Army at all than to see them staggering towards their home on patrol, stoned on Hashish.  The Captain’s Journal thinks that it’s time to throw away the bongs and pick up a rifle.  Without being able to turn over to a legitimate Afghan Army, all will be lost in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Corruption and Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Edward Joseph writing for the Washington Post gives us a glimpse into how some of the former anti-Soviet Mujahideen feel about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

I recently visited the exhibit during a seven-week mission to evaluate a U.S. program assisting local governments in Afghanistan. On our way out of the museum, we bumped into a prominent mujahed fighter and his entourage. When an American in our group told him that the United States would never forget the Afghan fighters’ struggle against the Soviets, he smiled and nodded proudly. “And we also can never forget your fight against the Taliban now,” the American added. With that, the mujahed’s smile vanished — and so did he, with all his people, after an awkward goodbye.

A full sixty percent of the Afghan population see the Taliban as the biggest threat to Afghanistan.  This Mujahideen can be counted as one of the irreconcilables, and Petraeus has noted that we must pursue and kill them.  But the author goes on to discuss what turns out to be an important underlying problem in Afghanistan: corruption.

Everywhere I went, people complained about corruption. “The government is corrupt from A to Z,” said a road contractor working in one of the most dangerous provinces. The pressure, he explained, begins with “suggestions” that he hire officials’ relatives and friends and rent vehicles only from certain providers; it ends with the officials telling him exactly how big a cut of his profits they’ll take to let the project continue.

This theme is so ubiquitous that it isn’t difficult to find reports of corruption.  It applies to everything in life.

When it comes to governing this violent, fractious land, everything, it seems, has its price.

Want to be a provincial police chief? It will cost you $100,000.

Want to drive a convoy of trucks loaded with fuel across the country? Be prepared to pay $6,000 per truck, so the police will not tip off the Taliban.

Need to settle a lawsuit over the ownership of your house? About $25,000, depending on the judge.

“It is very shameful, but probably I will pay the bribe,” Mohammed Naim, a young English teacher, said as he stood in front of the Secondary Courthouse in Kabul. His brother had been arrested a week before, and the police were demanding $4,000 for his release. “Everything is possible in this country now. Everything.”

Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.

Ubiquitous corruption is now causing a major problem in the counterinsurgency campaign.  Some of the population is beginning to contrast the massive, systemic corruption of the current regime with Taliban rule.

Some in Kabul have become nostalgic for Taliban times. “At least, with the Taliban, we had security,” one mechanic told me after we haggled over the cost of my motorcycle repair. “No one would steal my tools. Now life is dangerous, the cost of food and gas are expensive, and the government does nothing for us. They work only for themselves, because they know this won’t last” …

[Some] seem nostalgic about the Taliban government’s honesty and integrity, despite the harsh rules. One recent cartoon in The Kabul Times showed a $100 bill on a human body, pointing to an Afghan government ministry and saying, “If you need help, don’t go in there without me!”

According to one report, NGOs now dedicate an average of 7 to 8 percent of their budget to paying bribes—sometimes called “facilitation fees” or “marketing fees” on paper—many directly to government official coffers. USAID and military organizations seem able to avoid much of the corruption, but ordinary Afghans face it regularly. There are at least four phrases in Dari specifically for persons who demand bribes, my favorite being chor sat o bist, “420,” the code for corruption.

It’s not that the system is corrupt,” the U.S. State Department’s new anti-corruption director told me in September, inside a heavily guarded compound in Wazir Akbar Khan. “It’s that corruption is the system.”

Corruption undermines legitimacy of the government, especially for the poor and lower middle class.  This has been and is being exploited by the Taliban, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  The PakTribune has a remarkable anecdotal account of this kind of exploitation.  It is a lengthy account, but necessary if we wish fully to understand one of the tools that the Taliban have used to come back to power.

It was during a visit to Peshawar that I met a senior police officer. He narrated a story which was brow-raising. He told of a person from Bannu who lent Rs 40,000/ to a man he knew, who promised that he would return it within a specified time. He told the borrower that he had saved up the said amount to help pay for his children`s education. When the agreed time lapsed, he asked him to return the amount. The borrower started making excuses and after a few months he flatly refused and challenged the lender to do what ever he could. There is a Pukhtun word for it “Laas Da Azaad De”.

The man went from pillar to post to seek justice but with no result. The police proved incapable as the borrower was a powerful man with strong connections. When he tried to knock on the door of the court for justice he was dismayed to hear that it would take months for the case to come to a hearing and years to reach a final judgment. After all that, the chances were that the verdict would go against him as he was up against powerful people. To top it off, he was told he had to pay Rs. 1000/ upfront every time he wanted to put his case forward for a hearing. This amount did not include the amount he was going to pay the lawyers. When he calculated it, the approximate amount turned out to be more than the actual amount he was going to seek justice for.

At the end of every day, he would go back home heart broken; cursing his luck to be living in a country where there was no justice for the middle or poor classes. He tried to persuade the borrower by pleading with him, explaining how desperately he needed the money for his children’s education. He even offered a discount or to split the amount into installments, but all in vain. It was like hitting a brick wall. He felt dejected, helpless and powerless to see his children suffering just because he came from strata of a society pushed against the wall.

One evening, he heard a knock on the door. He opened it and saw two strangers with bushy beards standing outside. Thinking they were there to collect ‘Chanda’, he asked with irritation what they wanted. They told him that they saw him crying in the mosque and on enquiry they were told that someone was refusing to pay his money back. With a surprised look on his face, he asked them who they were.

“We are local Taliban” Then they asked if he would let them have his side of story. He saw a ray of hope and ushered them in. After listening to his story, the Taliban told him that the borrower had committed an un-Islamic act, and if he wanted they could persuade him to return the said money. “We want your permission”. His heart jumped with flickering optimism and immense joy and without any hesitation, he gave them his consent. Before they left the premises they asked for 72 hours.

According to the police officer, the Taliban went to the influential man and told him it was un-Islamic not to pay the amount he had borrowed from the man. They threatened that if he did not pay the debt back within 48 hours; he would bear the consequences. They also told him how Taliban had previously dealt with people like him. Shivers went through the spine of the ‘powerful’ man as he knew what their threat meant. With a dry mouth, frightened face and shaking body he nodded his head in agreement, promising he would pay back the amount. The next day, he went to the house of the lender and paid back the full amount he had refused up until then. He apologised for the delay and requested him to tell the Taliban not to harm him or his family and to let them know that he had returned the money. The Taliban never went back to ask whether he got the money back, but they must had been watching the development. From that day on, according to the police officer, that man became a strong supporter of Taliban. Could anyone blame him?

When Taliban justice is seen as free of corruption, the people can overlook its harshness – at least, some of them.  As long as corruption is the way of life in Afghanistan and the Taliban are seen as the anti-corruption faction, the campaign will be very hard to prosecute, and in fact no lasting good is likely to come of it.

The application of soft power is necessary in Afghanistan, and this power doesn’t necessarily mean more largesse.  But it does mean that we must be clever and crafty regarding the politics, governance, mentoring and instruction of the Afghan government, and the accountability we demand of the current (and future) regime.  We must not be as politically stolid as we were in Iraq.  We might just win the military campaign and lose the country because we back a corrupt regime.

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue Part 2

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

In NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue, we discussed the U.S. and NATO program (then in the planning stages) to eradicate poppy since it provides a revenue stream to the Taliban.  The Taliban also create income from marble quarries in Pakistan, extortion of cell phone providers in Afghanistan, ransom from kidnapping, and “protection” of small businesses.

The plans are finalized now and U.S. forces will fire on drug related individuals without proof that they are connected to any military objective.

NATO will remain within international law when it proceeds with new measures to kill drug traffickers in Afghanistan and bomb drug processing laboratories to deprive the Taliban of its main financing, the alliance’s secretary general said Wednesday.

The official, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said that “a number of buffers and filters” had been put in place to safeguard the legality of combating what he termed the nexus between the insurgency and narcotics.

“It is according to international law,” he said. “And if nations at a certain stage think that they would rather not participate, they will not be forced to participate.”

Two weeks ago, the alliance was embroiled in controversy after Gen. John Craddock, the NATO commander who is also chief of American forces in Europe, said troops in Afghanistan would fire on individuals responsible for supplying heroin refining laboratories with opium without need for evidence.

In a letter to Gen. Egon Ramms, a German who heads the NATO command center responsible for Afghanistan, General Craddock said that “it was no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective.”

General Ramms questioned the legality of the proposal, warning that it would violate international law and rules governing armed conflict. General Ramms’s letter was leaked, provoking a debate within NATO about the conditions and circumstances under which troops could attack drug laboratories.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer ordered an investigation into the leak. “Our enemies and opponents in Afghanistan are reading this leak,” he said. “They are not stupid.”

Aside from the effeminate hand wringing over whether this program is “legal,” the program is an attempt to avoid conducting counterinsurgency.

The notions of herion, opium and drug cartels carry connotations of evil, and properly so.  But that isn’t the point.  When the Marines engaged the Taliban in the Helmand province they purposely avoided any destruction of crops, poppy and otherwise.  Turning the farmers into insurgents was not in the mission plan, and the Marines are smart fighters.

Concerning a recent example of Texas National Guard in an agricultural program to compete with the Taliban farms for seed production, we warned that it is one thing to win the competition, and quite another to ensure that the Taliban don’t co-opt the program and turn it to their favor.

Yet another example of this comes from a clever plan to replace poppy with pomegranates.

POMEGRANATES are the key to eliminating heroin, a pioneering charity founder has claimed.

James Brett is spearheading a campaign to persuade farmers in Afghanistan to switch from growing poppies to growing the super-fruit.

He was in Cardiff yesterday as a guest speaker at the annual conference at City Hall of Cymorth Cymru, the organisation that represents people in supported housing.

“I recognised that Afghanistan not only grew the best pomegranates in the world,” said James, who founded the charity Pom 354.

“They also produced more than 90% of the world’s heroin.

“From research I undertook I came to realise that sales of pomegranates on the global market could outstrip the value to Afghanistan of the opium industry.

“With Pom 354 we are putting in place something that is completely viable for the farmers, and that’s vital to the sustainability of the project in Afghanistan.”

Many families in the war-torn country rely on growing poppies, which are turned into heroin, which in turn is smuggled through Europe and has destroyed countless lives in South Wales.

James added: “The tribal elders [in Afghanistan] are very happy that someone has come and started a project they can believe in.

“There’s a lot of unity there and we’re just getting ready to get started on a large scale.

“We’re looking at installing a factory in Kandahar to produce pomegranate concentrate and, if possible, pomegranate jam.

“We’d like to see at the end of this year containers of fresh pomegranate leaving Afghanistan for supermarkets.

“There’s a lot of interest in pomegranates in the West because of its health benefits.

“Over the course of the next 10 years we would like to plant 45.9 million trees, which would cover an area slightly larger than the areas which are used for poppy production.”

The program sounds promising so far.  As for the Taliban?

Asked whether he had been in contact with the Taliban, Mr Brett said: “In the complexity of the tribal system in Afghanistan, the Taliban are in every element of society.

When I talked at the three tribal gatherings, the Taliban were present. I believe that if we don’t communicate with every faction of this problem, we’re not going to solve it.

So what is the solution to the evolving pomegranate problem?  How will we prevent it from becoming a revenue stream for the Taliban?  Will we shoot pomegranate dealers on sight?

The problem is that we have tried everything – from special operations and air raids on high value targets, and now to poppy eradication – instead of classical counterinsurgency with enough troops to accomplish the mission.

The problem isn’t poppy any more than it is marble quarries, small businesses, wheat seed or pomegranate farmers.  There is no solution to the problem of the revenue stream except to kill or capture the Taliban.  Why is this so hard for strategists and staff level officers to understand?

Marines, Taliban and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

This generation’s Ernie Pyle, Michael Yon, has posted a very important Powerpoint presentation.  His post is entitled The Eagle Went Over the Mountain.  Michael has posted some very important prose on the campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  But sometimes all a good journalist has to do to be good is find and send on the important things he finds.  The trick is in knowing what’s important.  Every unit planning a deployment to Afghanistan, and even those who are not, should spend time studying this presentation for its worth in the fundamentals of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP).  The Powerpoint presentation is linked just below.

the_eagle_went_over_the_mountain3

Here is one excerpt on a common tactic.

The bait and ambush attack is one of the most common ambush techniques used by the enemy.  The enemy is very observant and has noticed how aggressive Marines are compared to other coalition forces.  They have use this to their advantage on several occasions and have drawn Marines into complex ambushes with catastrophic results.

In this scenario a platoon minus was patrolling the town when they were engaged with sporadic small arms fire from a distance.  They returned fire and were moving further into the town when they were engaged by a single enemy fighter who fired on the platoon and broke contact.  The platoon chased the fighter through the town when they suddenly found themselves in a dead end.

The enemy attacked the platoon from the rear and pushed them further into the dead end.  The enemy had driven the platoon into a fire sack and they ambushed the platoon from the roof tops.  This continued until aviation assets came over head and broke the ambush.

Here is a visual depiction of the tactic.

This is only the beginning of the discussion concerning logistics ambushes, fire and maneuver tactics, development of enfilade fire, and even the thickness of the mud walls of the Afghan homes (18″ thick, resistant even to 20 mm Vulcan).  As few of the summary points of the presentation follow:

Fire Control: Enemy forces have demonstrated a high level of fire control in numerous engagements.  They have shifted and focused their fires on what they perceived to be the greatest threat.  Ambushes have generally been initiated with bursts of machinegun fire followed by volleys of RPGs.  The beaten zone of the RPGs have been within six inches to a foot.  This shows a very developed system of fire control and points to a section leader controlling these fires.  The complexity and size of some of these ambushes point to a platoon and company level command structure.

Interlocking fields of fire: The enemy did an excellent job of placing fighting positions in locations where they could mutually support each other.  As elements of the platoon attacked one position, they would be engaged from multiple firing positions.  Several times during the engagement elements of the platoon would be pinned down from accurate fire coming from several directions until other elements could maneuver to destroy those positions.

RPG Volley Fire: Almost every time the enemy attacked the armored vehicles, the enemy attacked with volleys of 2-3 RPGs.  This demonstrated a high amount of coordination and discipline.  Often times these attacks came from multiple firing positions.

Combined arms:  The enemy demonstrated an advanced understanding of combined arms.  Most of their attacks on the platoon combined machine gun fire with RPGs, rockets and mortars.  Enemy forces used their PK machine guns to suppress turret gunners while several RPG gunners would engage vehicles with volleys of RPGs. They also attempted to fix the vehicles using RPGs and machinegun fire for attacks with rockets and mortars.

Fire and Maneuver: The enemy proved to be very adept at fire and maneuver. The enemy would fix Marines with RPG and machine gun fire and attempt to maneuver to the flanks.  This happened with every engagement.  If elements of the platoon were attacked from one direction, they could expect further attacks to come from the flanks.  This occurred both with mounted and dismounted elements of the platoon.

Anti-Armor Tactics: The enemy did not attempt to penetrate the crew compartment of the vehicles they engaged.  They fired volleys of RPGs to the front end of the HMMWVs in order to disable them and start a vehicle fire.  Once the crew evacuated, they would engage them with crew served weapons.  This demonstrates a very detailed understanding of the limitations of their weapon systems and a thorough knowledge of our armor vulnerabilities.

“Karez” Irrigation Ditches: The enemy utilized prepared fighting positions built into irrigation ditches to maneuver about the battlefield and attack the platoon.  These ditches ranged from four to seven feet deep and made any frontal attacks very difficult.  The enemy would attack from one position and rapidly maneuver to another.  This facilitated flanking attacks.  The enemy also used tree lines to stage their attacks from.  Many wooded areas are bordered with mud walls and irrigation ditches, which the enemy used for cover and concealment.

Massing Forces: The enemy was able to mass their forces to over 400 enemy on the battlefield on several occasions.  This was not normally the case in Iraq.  Situations here in Afghanistan can quickly escalate and even company sized elements can find themselves outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outgunned.  The enemy will not always mass but they will rally to defend their leadership or protect their interests.  They have conducted ambushes that have swelled to 400 fighter engagements and have also massed to that size to conduct attacks on Forward Operating Bases.

Defense in Depth: The enemy plans their defenses with depth and mutual support in mind.  In one ambush the enemy engaged the platoon from a tree line that was supported by fighting position to the north that were tied into the defense and prevented us from flanking the ambush site.  These machine gun positions had excellent fields of fire and machine guns were set in on the avenues of approach. The enemy fought to the death in the tree line to defend their base 200 meters to the north.  As the platoon attempted to attack the base from the flank, they were engaged from multiple machine gun positions with excellent fields of fire with interlocking fields of fire.

Fire Discipline: Engagements have lasted from two to forty hours of sustained combat.  Marines must be careful to conserve rounds because there may not be any way to replenish their ammunition and it is not practical or recommended to carry an excessive number of magazines.  Marines took a few moments to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and this greatly improved the ratio of shots fired to enemy fighters killed.  Crew Served Weapons do not always need to be fired at the rapid rate.  Good application of shoulder pressure will tighten beaten zones and lead to effective suppression. Talking guns will help conserve ammunition.

Fire Control: Fire control was critical during the battle from the team to platoon level.  One of the main reasons the platoon did not take many casualties during the battle was due to the effective coordination between crew served weapons, precision fires, CAS, mortars and small arms.  This permitted the platoon to place pressure on the enemy force and focus fires as required to maneuver elements of the platoon to close with and destroy the enemy.  Enemy forces use water to reduce the dust signature around their battle positions and it can become very difficult to locate enemy firing positions in the chaos of battle.  Unit leaders can use tracers in the day time and lasers at night to mark targets for crew served weapons and small arms fire.   Vehicle commanders and drivers can walk gunners on target using ADDRACS, target reference points and the field expedient mil system (one finger, four fingers from the hay stack).  The impacts from MK-19 are easily seen and can be used to orient the other gunners.

Combat Load: Marines had to conduct numerous trench assaults and squad rushes during the eight hour battle and the heavy weight of their armor and equipment greatly hampered their movement.  After this battle all of the Marines reevaluated their combat load and reduced the amount of ammunition that they carried.  After the battle, Marines normally carried no more than 4 to 6 magazines and one grenade.  In the company ambush in Bala Baluk no Marine fired more than four magazines in the eight hours of fighting despite the target rich environment.

This is not nearly all of the important TP observations.  The entire presentation is worth the time to study and re-study, and there are a number of counter-tactics that the Marines found that they could use with success.  This extremely important observation concludes the presentation: Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained.  This is not the case in Afghanistan.  The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results.  Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.

The Recon Marines and the authors of this report have done a great service to the balance of U.S. forces in theater for providing this analysis both of the enemy TTP and successful defeaters for them.  While a new study is released from the think tanks about every week on Afghanistan, this presentation should be considered the most important thing to come out of Afghanistan in the past two years.  I have discussed this with Michael Yon, and on this we agree.

It deserves as wide a distribution as possible.  Thanks to Michael for posting this, and a special thanks to the brave warriors of the Force Recon Marines.

Is Afghanistan Worth It?

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

A confluence of events and articles is focusing attention on the question(s) “Why are we in Afghanistan?” and “Is it worth it?”  A main stream media reporter recently sent The Captain’s Journal a note questioning what would happen if the U.S. and Britain completely pulled out of Afghanistan?  This reporter isn’t alone.  The likes of Dr. John Nagl, Michael Yon, Bill Roggio and Dr. David Kilcullen have recently weighed in on a number of both directly and tangentially related issues concerning whether we stay in Afghanistan and what the campaign should look like if we do.  Since this also relates to our own advocacy of a particular strategy for Afghanistan, we’ll take a sweeping trek across this terrain.

David Kilcullen weighs in at The Small Wars Journal Blog with Crunch Time in Afghanistan-Pakistan (an edited version of his statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan, 5th February 2009).  We’ll return to what Kilcullen says shortly, but first, there is a particular comment that runs in the same vein as the many of the objections to the campaign.  Excerpts are provided below.

… is it not better to cut the losses and leave now?  What is the downside of an immediate departure?  Loss of prestige? We have none to lose with any the groups we’re attempting to defeat.  Loss of deterrence? As Israel will discover, misapplied force encourages rather than discourages resistance. (Didn’t some guy named Galula say that about 50 years ago?)  The Taliban take over? Let them. As with Hamas, the only avenue to a positive outcome for us is to let them attempt to govern. If they succeed and create development and stability, we win. If they fail and destroy their popular support, we win … That al Qaeda will flourish? It’s more an identity than an entity, and we can’t defeat ideas with firepower. External events will determine al Qaeda’s viability.  The instability in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan? Too late. We pretty much assured that when we underwrote the original mujahedeen back in the 80’s and then walked away after the Red Army bolted …  That heroin will flood the world? Legalize drugs and kill their funding source. (And that of the cartels.) (And we can shift the DEA budget to development work.)  That it will become a training ground (again) for terrorists? As long as there is a sea of disaffected people for them to swim in, terrorists will exist and their camps will be somewhere. True counterterrorism is social work – police, intel, development. The solution is social justice, not combat … Aid workers are a lot cheaper than warfighters, and the rising expectation of Pashtuns, driven by the awareness of their neighbors’ prosperity, will become an existential threat to the Taliban.

This objection to the campaign as it is currently constituted is the classic counterterrorism schema in which kinetic operations are reserved for high value targets and the population is changed from policing actions and social justice.  Seth G. Jones with RAND is a proponent of this model, i.e., that policing and intelligence are the answer to the problem rather than military action.

Aid workers would suffer the same fate as the Polish engineer who was recently executed by the Taliban.

When aid workers have no security they cannot perform the functions of an aid worker.  The Taliban will hardly create a stable regime, and Afghanistan would indeed become a haven again for AQ.  Furthermore, the mission of the Taliban (both Afghan Taliban and Tehrik-i-Taliban) is harmonizing into one of support for regional control and then confrontation of the West.  Baitullah Mehsud has made it clear that the goals of the TTP have evolved to one of global aspirations: “We want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

If the Taliban ever were just local rogues and thugs who wanted control over money and women, they aren’t now only that.  There has been a dovetailing not only of ideology but of forces as well.  The Tehrik-i-Taliban shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!” There is no distinction.  Bill Roggio has recently written about al Qaeda’s shadow army, operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda has reorganized its notorious paramilitary formations that were devastated during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Al Qaeda has reestablished the predominantly Arab and Asian paramilitary formation that was formerly known as Brigade 055 into a larger, more effective fighting unit known as the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The Shadow Army is active primarily in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and in eastern and southern Afghanistan, several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The paramilitary force is well trained and equipped, and has successfully defeated the Pakistani Army in multiple engagements. Inside Pakistan, the Shadow Army has been active in successful Taliban campaigns in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat.

In Afghanistan, the Shadow Army has conducted operations against Coalition and Afghan forces in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangahar, Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Zabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar provinces.

“The Shadow Army has been instrumental in the Taliban’s consolidation of power in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province,” a senior intelligence official said. “They are also behind the Taliban’s successes in eastern and southern Afghanistan. They are helping to pinch Kabul.”

Afghan and Pakistan-based Taliban forces have integrated elements of their forces into the Shadow Army, “especially the Tehrik-e-Taliban and Haqqani Network,” a senior US military intelligence official said. “It is considered a status symbol” for groups to be a part of the Shadow Army.

There are no “reconcilables” in this group or the TTP.  The time delay in conducting legitimate counterinsurgency in Afghanistan has ensured that the Taliban have become radicalized.

Michael Yon has penned a sober (and sobering) analysis of the situation in Afghanistan.

The Iraq war, even during the worst times, never seemed like such a bog.  Yet there is something about our commitment in Afghanistan that feels wrong, as if a bear trap is hidden under the sand … We must also understand that Afghanistan is what it is. The military is acutely aware that Afghanistan is not Iraq.  The success we are seeing in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly occur in Afghanistan.  If we are to deal with moderate elements of the AOGs (armed opposition groups) we must do so from a position of strength, and this means killing a lot of them this year, to encourage the surviving “reconcilables” to be more reconcilable.

In fact, Dr. John Nagl waxes even darker in his forecast.

Col Nagl, an Iraq veteran who helped devise the successful strategy there under the aegis of Gen David Petraeus, told The Daily Telegraph that the gains made by the Taliban over the past two years need to be reversed by the end of the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan, around late September or early October, or else the Taliban will establish a durable base that would make a sustained Western military presence futile.

The forecast given by The Captain’s Journal to the querry from the MSM journalist was fundamentally that without U.S. and British troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban would be inside of Kabul within two weeks and the Karzai regime would collapse within one month to six weeks.  The Afghan police would be slaughtered, and the Army would last just a little longer than the police.  The Northern Alliance (which has been relegated to the sidelines by the U.S., and supported to some extent by India) would then be at civil war again with the Taliban.  Al Qaeda and a radicalized Taliban (such as the TTP) along with other international jihadist elements would have safe haven from which to train and launch attacks against Pakistan initially, and the West eventually.

To return to what Kilcullen advocates, he advises against the notion of a scaled-back effort performing counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda.  Whether we like it or not, we must provide security for the population and rebuild government legitimacy.  He also contrasts “chasing the Taliban around” with providing security, a dichotomy The Captain’s Journal rejects.  Having enough troops to chase and kill the Taliban should be part of an effective counterinsurgency strategy.  Petraeus has said so himself.

But Kilcullen is fundamentally right.  Counterinsurgency is the only viable option, short of pulling out of Afghanistan come what may.  Counterterrorism-policing operations against high value targets has failed us for six years in Afghanistan, and engaging only the soft side of COIN (i.e., sending more aid workers to rebuild the nation as the military bolted from the country) is a bizarre strategy to say the least.  As for Pakistan?  Again, listen to one Taliban who, when interviewed, gave away valuable intelligence concerning their perspective.  “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban, its only real allies in the region.”

Afghanistan is as good a place to begin the regional counterinsurgency campaign as anywhere.


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