Permissible Arms

And what can’t be done?

Posted in afghanistan, united kingdom, united nations by Karaka on 22 April 2010

I haven’t done a post on pieces I’ve liked that talk about women lately, so I figured its timely.

Rex at Afghanistan: My Last Tour conducted an interview with female ANA soldiers, which I thought was generally awesome, but also deeply informative.

My next stop was the ANA Family Support Center. Inside I was greeted by two women dressed in traditional Afghan clothing, complete with the hajib hair covering. But these two women are not civilians; instead, they are both Captains in the ANA army. Using my interpreter, I asked permission to conduct an interview so I could learn more about them. They agreed and I used my tape recorder to record our conversation.

Both of the women are married, have 4 children and similar educational backgrounds with completing high school and 3 years of medical studies at a local college. The younger Captain has served in the Army for 20 years and the other 33 years respectively. They are responsible for assisting ANA widows and wounded soldiers’ family members. The younger captain revealed even as a child, she has always wanted to join the Army. Her father was an Army officer and supported her dream and now her sister is in the process of becoming an ANA officer too.

I inquired why they didn’t wear the ANA military uniform. They explained that due to culture perceptions and criticisms, it is better to wear civilian clothes.

I read pretty comprehensively on this subject, so it’s of note to me that stories/accounts like this don’t float up terribly frequently. I appreciate Rex noting both the challenges that female ANA soldiers face, and also the problems of negotiating correct cultural manners when there’s no clear rule to follow–especially when the female soldiers themselves are considered by their fellow soldiers to be breaking taboos.

Last month the NYT had a feature on female-staffed UN peacekeeping units that I thought was generally positive, though a couple stray comments (“the thin pink line”) were desultory and detracted from the strength of their subjects. Sgt. Monia Gusain commands a peacekeeping unit for the UN out of India, based in Liberia.

Liberia — a West African country created in 1847 to settle freed American slaves — is something of a modern laboratory for the rise of women making peace. Women are marching in foot patrols; the head of the U.N. mission, Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, is a woman; and the Liberian president, Mrs. Sirleaf, is the first woman elected as an African head of state, in 2005.

Mrs. Sirleaf — whose nickname is “Iron Lady” — is particularly blunt about the role of women in the recovery of her fragile country, which was battered by 14 years of civil war that left about 200,000 people dead and survivors haunted by torture, systematic rapes and the exploitation of drug-addicted boy soldiers.

“What a woman brings to the task is extra sensitivity, more caring,” Mrs. Sirleaf said in an interview. “I think that these are the characteristics that come from being a mother, taking care of a family, being concerned about children, managing the home.”

There’s more gender reductionist verbiage in there, and similar ideology propagated by several people interviewed, but it’s generally positive and endlessly fascinating.

Finally, the Guardian’s Elizabeth Rubin wrote a remarkable account of her experience as an embedded reporter in Afghanistan, in the first few months of her pregnancy. Western culture has a strange relationship with pregnancy: revered, unwanted, and political all at once. I think I’d like to meet this woman who took her pregnancy into a war zone.

On a muggy August afternoon, I dragged myself and my flu to an infectious-disease doctor. I asked him if he could give me some antibiotics for Afghanistan that were safe to take when you’re pregnant. His eyes leapt up from his notes.

“How far along are you?”

“Three months and a bit.”

I stared at a James Nachtwey photograph on his wall as he regaled me with stories about his war-photographer patients, all of whom were men. Clearly, I posed a different equation.

“Are you sure you will be able to run?” he said. “Because you’re going to need to run, and I have to advise you not to go in your condition.” Suddenly he was rigging up a heart-monitoring machine on my chest and pointing out my supposedly irregular heartbeat arrowing up and down the page. “I just came for a prescription,” I said. “If I wanted someone to tell me not to go to Afghanistan, I could have called my mother.”

I’m trying to tweet more–you’re welcome to add me there if you like–but I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of bad at it. Not so great at 140-character expressions of stream of conscious; I think I’m just too long winded.

Wednesday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, american media, iraq, pakistan, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 21 October 2009

H/t Dawn Patrol, Obama’s press conference with Maliki:

From the Times of London, Violence threatens Barack Obama’s pledge to pull troops out of Iraq:

General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.

“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”

As the fourth of five parts of David Rohde’s account is published, Noah Schachtman at Danger Room draws this criticism from it about the use of drones in Pakistan: But, in the next breath, Rohde also validates some of the criticisms of the robotic assaults — that the drones are handing the Taliban a propaganda win, and driving fresh jihadists to their ranks. Interesting. Also, on Pakistan, Ahsan Butt makes four good points about what we don’t know about Pakistan’s offense against the Taliban in Waziristan.

Starbuck collects a couple thoughts on terrain and the Battle of Wanat; I read Hershel Smith’s post at The Captain’s Journal this morning and think he has a point, though I remember reading somewhere that the placement of those bases had as much to do with usable MSRs as anything else. Though I can’t remember where I read that, so I might be misremembering.

The UN says Afghan opium fuels ‘global chaos’, which seems to be a surprise to squarely no one:

Afghanistan produces 92% of the world’s opium, with the equivalent of 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year.

Most of the opium that leaves Afghanistan makes its way through Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran, leaving a trail of addiction, criminality and death in its wake, according to the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

It says more people die globally from Afghan opium than any other drug but just a tiny percentage of what is produced is seized on route.

From Afghanistan–My Last Tour, I found the account of Drinking Tea with the Sgt. Major to be illuminating:

As we sipped our tea, the conversation switched to the HA drops in the villages. The CSM gave me some insight about how people steal these items and who to trust and who not to trust. I was totally dumbfounded when he said, “Please don’t give me any of those items, because I would be tempted to steal them too.” I explained our process on how we hand out items. We do not give them to select families, instead we provide to an entire village or school. He nodded in agreement.

Our conversation continued to revolve about the corrupt government and how millions if not billions of dollars of foreign aid have been siphoned off by corrupt government officials. But he put it into perspective and compared it to the United States. Afghanistan doesn’t have the lobbyist organizations like the US. Instead it utilizes tribal connections and nepotism. Enterprising businessmen and government officials who receive the money subcontract out using inferior quality and then pocket the rest. As a result, individuals who are illiterate become millionaires over night. We also discussed about US contractors working in Afghanistan. Most of them get paid over $100,000 and then the parent company charges the US government double or triple this rate, but nobody in the US seems to complain about this. It’s just a different way of doing business.

Well, not nobody.

Stratfor’s account of the US Challenge in Afghanistan is well worth the read, as is Tom Ricks’ article at the Daily Beast. See also Gilles Dorronsoro’s op-ed and Diplopundit’s following of the Department of State’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

I’m going home to the dog and chicken alfredo over homemade pasta. Take it easy, blogosphere.

Humility and Candor

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 18 October 2009

You know, I have philosophical arguments that support the security of human rights, bar none, regardless of nation-state. My thesis was in part a development of the hybrid relationship of the duties and rights of individuals across national borders. But there are times that primary sources supercede my academic arguments, and I suspect this is one of those times.

In today’s Washington Post, Wazhma Frogh offers a first-hand perspective of the future Afghan women face should political reconciliation with the Taliban and/or the abandonment of Afghanistan to its own devices be sought. (I grant that, after the word from the White House this week, no one is seriously talking about withdrawal, but I think this editorial was probably conceived during such talk.) Even if the human rights of Afghan people, Afghan women, is on the bottom of your contemplative ranking of the US involvement in Afghanistan, hearing the account come from someone who was and will be affected is worth your time.

Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world — to men who do not view women as human beings — would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country’s women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it’s like to have rights.

and also:

We see some of NATO’s allies rapidly losing interest in Afghanistan, even though they admit that if the country is left to the insurgents, the consequence will be many more incidents like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They are being persuaded by a propaganda war on the part of insurgents who seem to have convinced much of the world that they are winning the war. But in fact the enemy will win only if the international community allows itself to be influenced by this propaganda campaign.

The question to keep in mind for all parties involved is, what motivated them to come to Afghanistan in the first place? The answer: global security and the protection of human rights in Afghanistan. Are these two purposes no longer valid?

I think it is very easy to write off this effect of decreased American involvement in Afghanistan. But we should not discount it. Again, even if this is the least of reasons to stay, do we not risk undermining our own most precious views of individual freedoms by allowing such human rights violations to freely occur? Hundreds of schools–for both male and female children–have been created in Afghanistan in the eight years ISAF has established its presence. It is a near certainty that they would disappear under political reconciliation with the Taliban, most especially the ones which educate female children.

As a country who only acknowledged women as citizen voters in 1920, I sincerely believe that we cannot abandon an effort that grants women in Afghanistan that same right when that right, and further ones, are threatened by the continued existence of the Afghan Taliban.

If you want to dismiss this argument as that of a bleeding heart, fine. I acknowledge that I find this of greater import than the political-martial ramifications of ISAF’s force increase. But allow me to provide some other pieces of relevant information. In the awarding of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, Kofi Annan spoke:

Today, in Afghanistan, a girl will be born. Her mother will hold her and feed her, comfort her and care for her – just as any mother would anywhere in the world. In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions. But to be born a girl in today’s Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider inhuman.

I speak of a girl in Afghanistan, but I might equally well have mentioned a baby boy or girl in Sierra Leone. No one today is unaware of this divide between the world’s rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it is borne by all of us – North and South, rich and poor, men and women of all races and religions.

Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.

That, not unlike our martial involvement in Afghanistan, was made eight years ago, and we wrestle with the question even now. From Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, allow me to make the comparison of the potential strength of Afghan women to that nascent strength of African women:

One implication is that donor countries should nudge poor countries to adjust their laws to give more economic power to women. For example, it should be routine for a widow to inherit her husband’s property, rather than for it to go to his brothers. It should be easy for women to hold property and bank accounts, and countries should make it much easier for microfinance institutions to start banks. Women now own just 1 percent of the world’s titled land, according to the UN. That has to change.

To its credit, the U.S. government has pushed for these kinds of legal changes. One of the best American foreign aid programs is the Millennium Challenge effort, and it has nudged recipients to amend legal codes to protect women. For example, Lesotho wanted Millennium Challenge money but did not allow women to buy land or borrow money without a husband’s permission. So the United States pushed Lesotho to change the law, and in its eagerness to get the funding it did so.

It may be politically incorrect to note these kinds of gender differences, but they are obvious to aid workers and national leaders alike. Botswana has been one of the fastest-growing countries in the world for decades, and its former president, Festus Mogae, was widely regarded as one of Africa’s most able leaders. He laughed when we suggested delicately that women in Africa typically work harder and handled money more wisely than men, and he responded:

You couldn’t be more right. Women do work better. Banks were the first to see that and hired more women, and now everybody does. In homes, too, women manage affairs better than men. In the Botswanan civil service, women are taking over. Half of the government sector is now women. The governor of the central bank, the attorney general, the chief of protocol, the director of public prosecution—they are all women. … Women perform better in Africa, much better. We see that in Botswana. And their profiles are different. Deferred consumption is higher among girls, and they buy durables and have higher savings rates. Men are more consumption oriented.

And in the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, the organization made the fostering of women a primary concern:

At each stage of a girl’s life there is something we can do to safeguard her future. Each individual investment – to build her self esteem, protect her property rights, feed her properly, make sure she goes to school, provide appropriate skills training – will transform her life, lift her family out of poverty and give her the money and status to contribute to her community and the global economy as a whole.

The 500 million adolescent girls and young women in developing countries are potentially a major force in driving economic progress but, the world over, a continued lack of investment in girls results in increased poverty. If we turn our backs on this generation at this time, if we fail to invest in these communities and the individuals in them, we do irreparable damage to a whole generation of girls, and to their children. This must change: Poverty may have a woman’s face, but sustainable economic prosperity has the face of a girl.

Finally, in terms of straight facts, the United Nations Foundation offers “Why Invest in Adolescent Girls:”

Every year of schooling increases a girl’s individual earning power by 10 to 20 percent, while the return on secondary education is even higher, in the 15 to 25 percent range.

Girls’ education is proven to increase not only wage earners but also productivity for employers, yielding benefits for the community and society.

Women who have control of their own income tend to have fewer children, and fertility rates have shown to be inversely related to national income growth. Girls and young women delaying marriage and having fewer children means a bigger change of increasing per capita income, higher savings, and more rapid growth.

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families.

The impact of investing in girls is intergenerational. A mother with a few years of formal education is considerably more likely to send her children to school, breaking the intergenerational chain of poverty. In many countries each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for up to an additional one-half year.

Put simply, investing the education and livelihood of the women of Afghanistan is an investment in the economic stability and security of Afghanistan. We abandon them at our own peril.

Friday Iraq Errata

Posted in iraq, us military by Karaka on 16 October 2009

Iraq hasn’t been getting much play in the MSM; it’s as if once the drawdown was announced, the punditry forgot it (except to play the allegory game with Afghanistan and Vietnam). Things are still happening, though, as any country in the throes of change with a 100k strong foreign military presence might have. To wit,

Wounded Soldiers Return to Iraq, Seeking Solace:

The seven-day program, called Operation Proper Exit, has been kept quiet previously, partly because returning to a combat zone is considered a delicate experiment. For the eight wounded men who returned to Iraq this week, including five amputees and one blinded soldier, the hope is that returning to places many of them left while unconscious or in agony might reassure them that their losses have been worth it.

…Operation Proper Exit was started by a small foundation in Laurel, Md., Troops First, supported by the U.S.O. and welcomed by the military command in Iraq. This was the second visit to Iraq since June, but the first was kept secret because no one knew for sure how the soldiers would handle their return.

“The amount of developmental growth and closure was phenomenal,” said Col. David Sutherland, the former brigade commander in Diyala, who came along on that first trip and said it turned out better than had been hoped. “Some of them said their night terrors stopped after they went.”

You know, I have to say, going back for closure while violence and martial presence is integral is kind of insane, but clearly it’s an insanity that works. If the punditry I’ve been hearing is correct, this is the longest period of wartime the US has been in since our plucky country was created. And our concepts of PTSD and trauma are much more integrated into US culture. It may be the best way to get troops through the emotional repercussions of this warfare.

Most Iraqi refugees being resettled go to US:

More than 30,000 Iraqis have moved to the United States under a resettlement program that began in 2007 while much smaller numbers have gone to other countries, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has recommended to the participating countries the names of 82,500 Iraqis who should be moved, but so far only 33,000 have been able go to their new homelands, said spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

“Everyone is urgent,” said Mahecic, but he stressed that priority should be given to medical emergencies and to women and children at particular risk.He said the refugees have been determined to be in need of international protection and that no other solution is possible.

Nothing to say except to note the number; that sure is a lot of displaced people. I suspect that’s a conservative estimate, too.

Iraqis Miss Target Date on Election:

Iraq’s parliament missed a deadline Thursday to pass a law needed to hold parliamentary elections slated for January, raising the chance the polls could be delayed.

A delay in the election, which is seen as a gauge of Iraq’s stability, could force American commanders to push back decisions about how quickly they can withdraw troops from the country, U.S. officials said.

You know, for a parliament who only recently were considering a measure to push international troops out sooner, they sure gave themselves a situation that would insure the MNF sticking around longer. Most of the drawdown is set to take place after troop forces help secure the election in January; by not taking the proper measures to insure that the elections take place, neither the Iraqis nor the MNF can adhere to the timetable for withdrawal. Somehow, someone is going to put that on Obama.

Eight Killed In Baghdad Jewel Heists:

Armed men killed at least eight people and wounded nine Wednesday during the robbery of three jewelry stores in Baghdad, a brazen, daylight crime that residents blamed on security forces.

Sectarian violence has fallen sharply in the past year, in Baghdad and other areas across Iraq, but robberies and killings remain common. Many say that the country’s security forces, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, often play at least a tacit role in the incidents.

In Wednesday’s robberies, witnesses said two dark blue minibuses carrying 12 to 15 men arrived in a Shiite neighborhood at 2 p.m. and parked a block away from the market where the jewelry stores are located. The men walked the rest of the way.

Okay, this is in no way amusing, but some little part of me who was influenced significantly by Ocean’s Eleven can’t help but note that civilization has returned to Iraq if they’re having jewel heists. If you took out the significant death toll, you could make a Hollywood movie. I’m sure Clooney is free.

Sorry, sorry, black humour is over. I do wonder, though: if this level of robbery and violence went unchecked entirely, is the policing institution actually, in any respect, stable? I can’t help but think back to the release of prisoners in Iraq that took place last month as US forces handed over the responsibility of them to Iraqis. Is there really sufficient control in place if the Iraqi police can’t stop soemthing as tragic as this?

Tuesday Errata

Relevant interesting links:

Judah Grunstein over at the WPR blog tackles the lack of response from NATO in regard to the tactical review going on in the White House. Michael Cohen also takes an angle on the McChrystal drama, and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post does an op-ed comparing McChrystal to Petraeus.

These similarities were a big selling point for the Obama administration, which this summer decided it wanted its own Petraeus — a creative wartime commander and gifted manager who could push the military in Afghanistan into unfamiliar realms, such as economic development and tribal politics…These days, the last thing that the White House and the Pentagon brass want is a general who can bypass the chain of command; a general who speaks directly to the president; a general who emerges as the dominant American voice on the war. The last thing they want, in other words, is another Petraeus.

You know, I always find the USNI blog very interesting and educational, and today it and I wish the US Navy a happy birthday!

H/t Diplopundit for this article on the State Department’s conflict over aid to Pakistan, which continues my media watch on USAID.

Also regarding Pakistan, the Pakistani army launched its offensive today, in response to the significant array of attacks last week.

George Packer has a really interesting post about Rufus Phillps, Vietnam, and the Obama administration:

About to turn eighty, Phillips was contemplating a trip halfway around the world to Kabul. He was worried about the war in Afghanistan and thought that the presidential election, set for August 20th, would be a critical event. An independent Afghan group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, had invited him to come over as an unpaid adviser. Having seen America try and fail to win a war without a political strategy once before, he thought he had something to contribute in Afghanistan. He asked me for advice on what to wear, what kind of cell phone to bring, how to get into the city from the airport. I asked him why he was going to put himself through it, and he replied that he believed in putting your money where your mouth is. “I’ve still got the fire,” he said as he walked me to the elevator.

Well worth your time, that.

Via S&S, AP covers the continuing conflict over the Afghan election, including the resignation of Afghan election commissioner Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai and the acknowledgment–finally–by the UN of the problems with the election process.

U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique called the resignation “regrettable” but said the U.N. continues to trust that the group will produce a fair outcome. “We have full confidence in the ECC as the important work continues,” Siddique said, adding that the U.N. “stands by the work that they are doing on behalf of the Afghan people.”

Barakzai’s resignation was the latest in a series of problems that have confounded the electoral process since the election, the first run by the Afghans since the war began in 2001.

The NYT reports that Secstate Clinton and Secdef Gates are working on the same side of the tactical review, which seems to have surprised everyone but me. I guess I was the only one who listened to that panel from GWU last week; they seemed pretty similar-spirited then.

Khaleej Times printed an op-ed by Ehsan Ahrari today (h/t SWJ) which doesn’t necessarily offer anything new to the debate, but does summarize a couple things nicely:

What most Western observers are missing when they offer their expert advice regarding Afghanistan is an absence of a strong sense of history and an understanding of the culture of that country. Stewart is an exception to 
that observation.

The decision to add more troops in Afghanistan cannot be made purely by couching it in the requirements of American domestic politics, and by viewing it from the perspective of what is appropriate and acceptable inside the United States. I say that because, as more troops are inserted in Afghanistan, that will be seen as an evidence of commitment by outsiders, but not necessarily by the Afghans. They need more persuading than mere escalation troops for now.

The abruptness by which the United States left Afghanistan after the redeployment of the Soviet troops in 1989 leaves them no reason to believe that we are likely to stay there. This time there is no much difference. All they have to do is to watch the current debate regarding Afghanistan inside the United States.

Mind you, I am not questioning the legitimacy of these debates. They are quite genuine in the sense that, before more US young men and women are sent there and before more money is invested, we need to debate the nature of our commitment. However, that is precisely why the Afghans are skeptical that we mean to stay there for a long while this time.

And there went my Tuesday morning.

Tuesday Errata

I’ve been pretty deep in a couple books–Åsne Seierstad’s A Hundred and One Days, the Oxford World Classic edition of the Qur’an, and Nate Fick’s One Bullet Away. My booklist keeps growing like Tennessee kudzu; I think at last count I had sixty-three books on my “remember to buy these” list, in addition to the teetering stack crowding my desk at home.

Even so, I’ve been following a couple things–Secs. Clinton and Gates defending McChrystal from the press backlash at GWU yesterday (and Walter Pincus’ editorial from today), the news of General Petraeus’ cancer diagnosis, the escalating Pakistani response to the Word Food Program, and the face of eastern Afghanistan. I think McCrystal is taking more shit than he deserves, and that it’s easy to jump all over the new guy in charge. It sucks yet is admirable that Petraeus seems to be taking cancer in stride, though it explains his recent absence from the press. And I’m rapidly realizing the more I learn about Afghanistan, the harder it becomes to maintain any black-and-white view.

Granted, I’m a philosopher first and a blogger second, so black-and-whites aren’t really my bag; I’ve always been more comfortable living in greys. But the two books I mention above, minus the Qur’an, are two very different pictures of the same space of time in the same nation, and I’ve been trying to reconcile them with minimal success.

Also, I can’t figure out how to put the VALOUR-IT widget on this blog, and I suspect I won’t be able to unless I purchase something from WordPress, which is very annoying. Any advice, blogosphere?

In his previous incarnation as a homeboy–

Posted in united nations by Karaka on 25 September 2009

In today’s cheeky smart-assery, Foreign Policy.com has “The Qaddafi Disaster in Pictures.

This is my favorite:

Qadaffi!

“Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! You’re listening, right? To me, right? On the centre of the world stage sounding idiotic?” Wassup!”

“Excuse me, sir, we’re shutting down the club.”

People who wouldn’t sit together at the lunch table.

Posted in iran, united nations by Karaka on 24 September 2009

From the Washington Post:

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S-drafted resolution Thursday morning that affirms many of the steps President Obama plans to pursue as part of his vision for an eventual “world without nuclear weapons. In a first for a U.S. president, Obama presided over the 15-member meeting, joined by such leaders as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The meeting marked only the fifth head-of-state summit in U.N. history, and Obama’s presence was intended to signal the importance of the issue for the administration.

It seems Obama may have secured the leverage he’s clearly wanted going into talks with Iran. And this is certainly a different perspective from that of the 43rd President. Looks like those diplomatic moves are working.

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