Waiting for the punch in the mouth – TTG


Back in 1987 a reporter interviewed Mike Tyson about his upcoming fight with Evander Holyfield. The reporter asked Mike if he was worried about Evander and his fight plan. Mike famously replied,”Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” That thought came to mind when I read the latest plan articulated by a Pentagon spokesman for our military forces in eastern Syria.


“WASHINGTON—The Pentagon plans to keep some U.S. forces in Syria indefinitely, even after a war against the Islamic State extremist group formally ends, to take part in what it describes as ongoing counterterrorism operations, officials said. There are approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, along with an unspecified number of contractors supporting them. Last month, the U.S. military withdrew 400 Marines from Syria, which U.S. forces first entered in the fall of 2016.

Officials earlier this week disclosed the plans for an open-ended commitment, known as a “conditions-based” presence. That is the same approach the Trump administration is taking in Afghanistan. “The United States will sustain a conditions-based military presence in Syria to combat the threat of terrorist-led uncertainty, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas,” Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.

U.S. defense officials stressed there would be no large, permanent bases in Syria of the kind the U.S. maintains in places like Germany and South Korea. Instead, troops will be assigned to smaller bases and outposts. In some instances, troops will deploy temporarily from other bases in the region for specific missions, one of the defense officials said. It isn’t clear how many forces would stay in the country.

The Pentagon has said the forces will target parts of Syria that aren’t fully governed by either regime or rebel forces. The military says it has the legal authority to remain there. “Operating under recognized international authorities, the U.S. military will continue to support local partner forces in Syria to stabilize liberated territory,” Col. Manning said.”  (WSJ)


This “conditions based” presence sounds like a new way of saying we plan on staying in Syria indefinitely just like we plan on staying in Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely… or at least until we get punched in the mouth. Not much of a plan as far as I'm concerned.

Not long ago CIA Director Pompeo sent a secret letter to the IRGC’s General Soleimani reportedly to warn him not to attack US or Coalition forces in Syria or Iraq. Soleimani did not open the letter. It’s existence was reported by Press TV. Soleimani later sent his own not so secret message to the CJTF-OIR Commander.



“Brigadier General Haj Qassem Soleimani sent a verbal letter, via Russia, to the head of the US forces commander in Syria, advising him to pull out all US forces to the last soldier “or the doors of hell will open up”.

“My message to the US military command: when the battle against ISIS (the Islamic State group) will end, no American soldier will be tolerated in Syria. I advise you to leave by your own will or you will be forced to it”, said Soleimani to a Russian officer. Soleimani asked the Russian responsible to expose the Iranian intentions towards the US: that they will be considered as forces of occupation if these decide to stay in north-east Syria where Kurds and Arab tribes cohabit together.”  (Elijah J. Magnier)


To add to the CJTF-OIR Commander’s concerns, the leader of an Iraqi PMU militia, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, declared that “Trump’s stupid decision” to hand Jerusalem to the Israelis is “a legitimate reason to target American forces.”  In Aleppo the Liwa al-Quds Brigade rallied in protest to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. As the full reaction to Trump’s decision develops, our forces will end up surrounded by hostiles with no friends in sight. As Magnier surmises, Trump may be setting our troops up for a repeat of the events of 1983 Beirut. Now that would be a punch in the mouth.





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39 Responses to Waiting for the punch in the mouth – TTG

  1. aleksandar says:

    So the US will have some FOB in Syria, like those in Afghanistan ?
    Good luck guys !

  2. turcopolier says:

    aleksander I completely agree with you. A FOBbed up pattern of small unit forts is an invitation to defeat in detail. pl

  3. robt willmann says:

    The Wall Street Journal article quoted above in the main post states–
    “The military says it has the legal authority to remain there. ‘Operating under recognized international authorities, the U.S. military will continue to support local partner forces in Syria to stabilize liberated territory,’ Col. Manning said.”
    Notice that the Pentagon spokesman claims that the U.S. presence in the “sovereign” country of Syria is justified by “recognized international authorities”.
    A person should be curious about what those claimed “authorities” are.

  4. Tyler says:

    Hoo boy. We need less of this.

  5. steve says:

    Where are McMaster and Mattis on this? I can see Trump and family deciding that this is a good idea, but do those two really think this is smart? I think it would be a dereliction of duty on their part not to make it clear what the problems are with this plan. (Granted, this could just be for public consumption and they really do plan on getting out.)

  6. robt willmann,
    That claim about “recognized international authorities” is absurd. It’s become more absurd as Putin talks of pulling his forces out of Syria. That whole line of reasoning offered by Colonel Manning is the work of what we called shithouse lawyers.

  7. robt willmann says:

    Also, in a display illustrating that he is starting to catch on even more about the factor of mass media in the operation of politics, Vladimir Putin showed up in Syria today to announce that some of the Russian soldiers are going to be withdrawn. Bashar al-Assad went to the airbase to greet him, of course. With some set up photo and video ops, the announcement was made.
    Here is a short one including Assad–
    Another video has some parade ground marching for about the first half, then Putin appears with some Russian Air Force personnel, and Assad gets into the photo with Russian pilots–
    A story in the RT media outlet, which did recently register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, is here–
    Compare and contrast — as used to be said in college literature courses — the U.S. statement about staying indefinitely with what Russia just did. Of course Russia will be there indefinitely, but with the full and effective consent of the Syrian host.

  8. steve,
    McMaster and Mattis are shaped by their experiences, especially those experiences in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. They and the DOD as a whole see our military as an expeditionary force rather than a home defense force. I don’t see that changing.

  9. GeneO says:

    Erdogan has not hinted of any withdrawals of Turkish troops or Turkish backed FSA from Syria. IMHO that is one of the reasons for non-withdrawal of most US troops, they are a warning to Erdogan to keep him from trying to overrun the SDF. A warning to Solemaini also perhaps, but mainly to Erdogan.
    Putin appears to be the only Meister of Foreign Policy in the room. He immediately announced the draw down of some of the 4300 Russian troops in Syria, except of course for the Hmeymim Airbase and the Tartous Naval Base.
    Despite al-Nujaba’s threats, it seems the US-backed SDF and the Iraqi Army have met on the border and are cooperating to secure it to prevent Daesh remnants from moving into and across the region as they flee the battlefield.

  10. eakens says:

    In business, you sign the agreement and put it away. If you have to read it again, you are generally screwed. As a result, we are very quickly becoming the party nobody wants to enter into an agreement with.
    The lawyers should familiarize themselves with the other party’s remedies: IED and EFP.

  11. Matthew says:

    Col: I am a late viewer to Ken Burns series on Vietnam, but have been very impressed by the soldiers featured in the series.

  12. Emad says:

    IMO U.S. forces remaining in Syria are a tripwire force paving the way for bombing Syria at will when domestic policy dictates a la post-1991 Iraq, or hitting Iran directly, because “they’re killing our boys in Syria”.
    PS. I know you’ve simply quoted Magnier here, but Soleimani’s rank is either MG or LTG, depending on how you look at general officership at the IRGC.

  13. GeneO says:

    Emad – Solemaini was reportedly promoted to Major General six years ago:
    My understanding is that the rank of LTG and full General were no longer used in Iran after 1979.

  14. Serge says:

    One of the many great Tyson quotes. Does anyone have an opinion on the future possibility of an Iraq style insurgency in SDF areas, refugee populations of the arab cities that lie in ruin or as literal minefields serve as a great base for such.

  15. LondonBob says:

    Trump is the one who wants to withdraw. We have been over this, it shouldn’t need repeating. It seemed as if Trump had overruled Mattis and agreed on a withdrawal as per his agreement with Putin.
    Whether there has been renewed push back on this I don’t know.

  16. It’s called “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
    1) You keep your troops in a country where they’re not wanted.
    2) Because they’re not wanted, they eventually get attacked.
    3) Now you have justification for keeping the troops there, cuz “terrorism.”
    4) PROFIT!
    Plus, as Emad said, they can be used to justify almost anything one wants to do, such as continuing to try to overthrow Assad, or justifying aggression against Iran, as the US tried to do in Iraq by constantly claiming Iranians were behind all the attacks on US forces there, and that Iran was making sophisticated IEDs for Iraqi insurgents, etc.
    Unlike anything Russia did during the 2016 election, this is what “meddling” actually looks like.
    It will be interesting to see how Assad and Putin will address this continued presence in Syria. Since the US goal is to prevent Assad from ever being in complete control of Syria ever again, at some point Assad will have to address this situation.
    He can’t afford to directly attack US forces in country because that will give the US an excuse to destroy his military, which was the goal of the Syria crisis all along. He could covertly support some “militias” to attack US forces, but that will just aggravate the situation and result in more US forces entering the country.
    He might possibly go the UN with Russia and China supporting him and demand their removal. The problem there is the US will veto any UNSC Resolution ordering that.
    I dismiss the Iranian general’s threat, because the same applies to Iranian forces in Syria. If they attack US forces, they risk war with the US and Israel – as well as dragging Syria into that war, so Assad will not be supportive of any unilateral Iranian military action. So they are likely to keep a low profile while building up their support for Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon – and Hizballah in Syria.
    They allegedly already have a missile factory set up near the Russian air base presumably to benefit from Russian air defense systems – which will remain even after Russia pulls out most of its ground forces. Israel presumably will find this utterly unacceptable. The question is will Israel risk confronting Russia over it by attacking said factory or other Iranian positions.
    So while ISIS may be “defeated” – or at least reduced back to a “terrorist group”, rather than a conventional army – and while Syria’s forces are now moving on Idlib, the situation in general remains tense and ripe for starting a new Middle East war involving Syria, Iran and Hizballah vs the US and Israel.

  17. Bill Herschel says:

    TTG, who benefits? Who benefits from the Global War on Terror? The American people? Israel? Saudi Arabia?
    The answer to this question is going to become clearer and clearer as the Trump administration (but it might just as well be the Clinton or Obama administration) rides quietly into the sunset and forgets about North Korea.
    North Korea today might have the ability to put a hydrogen bomb on Los Angeles. Sounds like terror to me. In a year they will probably definitely have the ability to put a hydrogen bomb on any square meter in the U.S. That’s got to be terror, particularly if you believe that Kim Jong-Un is a deranged hater of the U.S.
    Let’s see how many forward bases the U.S. puts in North Korea.
    The Global War on Terror is a fraud that benefits someone. After all a lot of money is changing hands. Hundreds of billions of dollars.
    And there are other reasons. The Republicans want to gut Medicare. The Defense Budget? Sacred.

  18. Annem says:

    This step is dumb beyond belief. I think our leaders are hoping to find an excuse in the reactions of Iran to our forces in Syria as a rationale for an expanded conflict with Iran.
    Our continuing control over former ISIS strongholds in Raqqa and elsewhere through Kurdish administration of their communities is leading to rising anger among the Arab majority area, of the sort that could cause another outbreak of violence, and bring in any of the other jihadis in the country, among them HTS. The Arab tribals who sought to fight in the reconquest of their region were rebuffed by the Kurds doing the fighting. This will do wonders for inter-communal reconciliation in Syria and make it harder for the Kurds to come out of the civil war with something.

  19. turcopolier says:

    “4) PROFIT!” Refers to what? pl

  20. Emad says:

    You’re right about 4-star generals. However, there were two Army LTGs in Iran after 1979: LTG Gharani and LTG Sayad Shirazi.
    Gharani had been promoted to MG during the Shah, but was dishonorably discharged and spent a few years in prison (He’d sought to stage a coup against the Shah). He was recalled; promoted to LTG, and appointed CJCS after the revolution, but was assassinated shortly thereafter.
    MG Sayad Shirazi was assassinated in 1999 by the MEK. He was posthumously promoted to LTG.

  21. dsrcwt says:

    I expect the Russians will isolate the US pocket, the way they did Al Tanf. With the cooperation of Turkey and Iraq who can at least agree that they don’t want a Kurdish state, they will make re-supply expensive if not impossible. They will extract most of the profits from oil exports from the Kurdish enclave. As the occupying power, the US would be responsible for rebuilding Raqqa et. al. which the US will not want to pay for. When the locals see reconstruction in the Syrian government zone, and waste and destruction in the US zone, they will start cutting deals with the Syrian gov’t or vote with their feet.

  22. Brunswick says:

    The Underpants Gnome theory of Business,

  23. Yeah, Right says:

    james points out that the UNSC 2249 “requires action against ISIS to be ‘in compliance with international law.’ ”
    Sure, it does, but that’s easily fixed: Colonel Manning need only stand up at the podium and pronounce that US forces are “Operating under recognized international authorities,”
    There, done.
    No need to name who those “international authorities” are, any more than UNSC 2249 names the international laws that it is referring to.
    Indeed, Manning must at all costs avoid naming that source of authority, lest those authorities shout back: Whoah! Hang on! This wasn’t us!

  24. Dabbler says:

    That was my reaction – Occam‘s razor. As if the marines in 1983 Beirut had been exposed intentionally, as sort of a tripwire. Over time, attacks on the troops to be left in Syria would seem to be inevitable. It might be well to remove any planners and decision-makers you don’t see this, as well as any who do.

  25. Kooshy says:

    My impression is, the Syrians and thier allies will first attend to clean up Idlib Provence before they go after SDF and pay any attention to force US out of eastern banks of Euphrates. IMO the Syrians and thier allies simply know that US and SDF don’t have enough ground forces to secure the entire eastern side of Euphrates River to Iraqi border unconditionally. Considering the Iraqi side is also controled by hostile PMU forces. IMO that stretch of land is even more dangerous to US forces then Iraq ever was back in 03/4 since this stretch of land is much narrower, in addition this time unlike in Iraq the hostile forces on both sides are of one fabric and mentality, and perhaps operate under one joint command center. I would think it will become a down to dusk war of IEDs on ground, and drones on the air. IED and drones are not much vulnerable and effected by air superiority as was evidenced in Iraq war. A new asymmetric gurilla warfair which classic top down command armies are incapable of fighting.

  26. VietnamVet says:

    Syria is pretty much an untenable situation for CENTCOM. There is still a function state to the West despite the best efforts to destroy it. The area of operation is landlocked and dependent on the kindness of Iraq, Jordon and Turkey for resupply. If the USA stays, it will be the one fighting a quagmire. It pretty much assures that Iraq and Turkey will join the Russia, China and Iran Alliance. Gulf Monarch Princelings will torture each other for the last billion of petrodollars.
    As long globalization and the destruction of democratic government are the prime directives of the West, the wars will continue until the Empire splinters apart.

  27. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Hi TTG, you might be interested in the 2017-11-22 WaPo article
    that seems to give much the same administration policy,

    U.S. officials say they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence
    in northern Syria —
    where the Americans have trained and assisted the SDF
    against the Islamic State —
    and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas.

    and quotes Mattis,
    that I linked to here:
    By the way, please let me know if that link jumps directly to the comment,
    rather than just to the post.
    That never works for me, but maybe that’s just my browser.
    Thanks, Keith

  28. Amir says:

    Some pep talk: from Suleimani: Translation (& some subjective interpretation as literal translation of some expressions, in a particular context, are not possible):
    Journalist: it has finished, God willing?
    Suleimani: no, it has just started. We have a long path before reaching the finish line. We just only finished ONE of the difficult steps.
    J: they mentioned that you baptized in Euphrates and prayed.
    S: …just one small step has been taken. Pray for us that God accepts …(meaning: accepts our sacrifice)
    J: when they (meaning DAESH/ISIS) goes away from this location, will Baghdad and the southern cities become more safe…(from ISIS / DAESH, he means)?
    S: We did the biggest and hardest action till now, God willing, it would be nice of the campaign is finished.
    Why has God bestowed our people with victory? God…is giving victories to Islamic Republic… why? In the our region, the depth and breadth of those victories are transcending… why? Whether America…whether Al Saud people …when they want to do something … even if they want to act, they will be incapable (of doing so) in juxtaposition to our people’s determination … because these citizens are willing to sacrifice their lives and belongings. They are deserving of victory … worthiness … victory is proportionate to worthiness (meaning in eyes of God) we have these capabilities in our leadership who is, without too many pretentious, living in service (of God and People, he means) … service of fellow humans … serving Islam and the entire community … without pretentious and boasting … we also have a people who have truly shown to be a self effacing nation … for it’s community, it’s nation, it’s religions and (pause meaning …above all..) for Islam
    Today, you are flagging it’s colors
    You are it’s divine پرشمدار be worthy of this honor bestowed upon you
    In the Battle of Khaibar, the Prophet gave the sword to those who were able to carry/handle it with worthiness and use it in service of righteousness. Imam Ali was the one who managed to lift open the gates of Khaibar. He was able to open the gates, not because his arms were more powerful rather than having a more profound spiritual belief. What made them victorious was their spirituality not their swords. Look at these Americans,… Look at the grandness of their armies. This military power with all their capabilities, when they lack resolve in their attack of Iraq, out of fear of getting injured, they make adult-sized diapers to reduce the need from getting out of their tank… but you, with your simple Kalash(nikov), with your simple side arm, created heroism … why?… because you superseded worldliness. By letting go of this world, it does not mean that we will not think anymore… don’t misunderstand our willing to give our lives for not being thoughtful for our lives… it merely reflects that we are not afraid of dying. We will pay attention, think, plan and be rational but will not fear for our personal lives. Someone who is trying to make us fear getting killed, is unwittingly giving us direction in life. They come and tell us we will kill you …
    I remembered what Shahid Ali Mohammadi, Brigade Commander, wrote in his diary: “My Arab brother, who is hunting me down and whom I’m chasing, I swear by God, if you kill me and make me a martyr, I will forgive you on the day of judgment. We, who are here, should pay close attention. Pay attention to halal (the permissible) and harram (the forbidden). People’s lives nor people’s homes can be taken nor occupied just like that. When we are praying, we should pay attention.
    This place (he means where battle is taking place) is one of deliberation, of prayer for immaculacy, this place is where one is closest to God
    Let us remember that Imam (Khomeini) asked the attendants of Hadj, “Oh you who have kneeled in front of the House of God, pray for those who are standing up in front of God’s enemies”. This …(pointing downwards) compared to that (pointing to the sky)… The Imam sent a message to the pilgrims to point out the enormity of the importance of the sacred combatant
    Alas, they were not prescient in detecting the role that the “Al Qaeda’s Airforce” played in arranging the evacuation of the DAESH leaders and ISIS’ most experienced fighters. They should have shot any ISIS supporting aircraft. In the fog of war sh.t happen “by mistake” ;-).
    Trumpeting about condolence, about a few downed USAF heli’s blamed on headchoppers and liver-eaters, would have literally drawn a line in the sand. A complete eradication of these elite fighters, would have rid the world of this scourge from House of Al Saud.

  29. Keith Harbaugh,
    Your link jumps to the top of the post rather than to your comment. No worries. Your comment is number 44 in that post. Mattis’ comments do point to a burning desire on the part of the Pentagon, and probably the Trump administration, to establish a US-controlled protectorate in eastern Syria. OTOH, we shouldn’t just cut and run. We should be preparing the YPG/SDF for reintegration into Syrian society on whatever terms those Kurds and Arab tribes can negotiate with Damascus.

  30. Larry Kart says:

    Less of what? Less of what the Pentagon proposes, or fewer posts like the one TTG made above? I’m not trying to be snarky; I honestly don’t know what you’re thinking, and what you’re thinking always is
    of interest to me.

  31. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Pursuing a technical issue, regarding
    “Your link jumps to the top of the post rather than to your comment.”
    That’s the same response I got.
    Something is wrong there,
    a “string” following the hashtag should jump to that part of the post labeled in HTML with
    name=string or id=string.
    That always works for the posts in my blog,
    and is generally how HTML is supposed to work.
    If it’s convenient (certainly not a priority),
    the Colonel might want to have somebody technically knowledgeable (at Typepad?) see what’s the problem.
    As to where I got that link from,
    in Internet Explorer
    I just positioned over the date group in the original comment,
    then right clicked on “Copy shortcut”,
    then copied into the post above.
    Here it is again:

  32. Charles Michael says:

    Yes, time will tell
    some stepping stones:
    A large US base Kosovo style would be too provocative, so small out-posts are planned.
    I am confident that US generals are aware of the implied vulnerability, so the mission of this garnisons apart face-saving will prpobably be more some kind of policing the area.
    and specially avoiding Kurds-Arabs confrontations.
    YPG Kurdes, from non-US sources, are talking to russians and probably Assad.
    More hypothetical, the Trump-Jerusalem could have a cooling (side)effect on the US Military expectations in East Syria. Intentionnaly ? that would be shrud.
    The cooling down of the KSA/lebanon project is a case in point
    Any new flaring of open-hostility in the MO, I am not talking about finisching Idlib,and various on-going mopping-up, would be most unwelcomme by all concerned (or not so) parties.

  33. jld says:

    You cannot do much with misbehaving tagged URLs, it depends on the browser and also if the comment is beyond 100, that is if the page should autoreload to the trailing comments.
    I just know that Firefox (under Linux) seem to do OK.

  34. confusedponderer says:

    Charles Michael,
    re. “More hypothetical, the Trump-Jerusalem could have a cooling (side)effect on the US Military expectations in East Syria. Intentionnaly ? that would be shrud. The cooling down of the KSA/lebanon project is a case in point
    I think that Trump’s Jerusalem declaration was a bad idea, and will bring bad results, as much for the declarer, the US, and as much for the appalauders in Israel and, say, hardcore zionism and evangelism.
    Still, the Jerusalem declaration will also compel the arab states to take a stand and make a statement. That statement likely will show that they may, in principle, support very much Muslim control of Jerusalem, but that they are not at all interested in the Palestinians per se, or are interested to fight for them. That alone Netanyahu likey will view as a bonus benefit.
    The Saudis, recently practically an Israeli ally, are a model case here:
    They happily support Jihadis in Syria, Libya and Yemen and all that, but they would not fight Israel for the Palestinians, and frankly, judging by their ‘success’ in Yemen, they also couldn’t do that. So, all the Palestinians get from them is preshly printed Korans, jihadi volunteers, some money and that’s it. They certainly won’t confront Israel, and they also loathe Iran, which likely are basic reasons for why the Israelis are allied with them – they can do what they do and want to do and have ‘international support’.
    Israel’s permanent hysteria about Iran (who are, according to neo-cons, iirc also are in … South America) also suggests that the Israelis understand that there is a limit to what they can do about Iranian influence and/or support to Hezbollah, and they don’t like being deterred by painful things they’d have to do to change these unwanted realities.
    That’s likely why the Israelis want the US to lend their military heavy weight since they know of Israeli limitations. That fear of pain is the same reason why the Saudis, taking hits in Yemen, were trying to ‘rent’ egyptian and pakistanian soldiers to do that dirty close combat work for them.
    The planned and deliberate destruction of Syria and Assad hasn’t worked, and in fact has strengthened Iran, whose influence has gotten stronger, and then, Russia joined in also, getting Syria far stronger again.
    The odd Hariri resignation fable give a hint about what the Saudis have in mind in Lebanon, and likely the Israrelis applaud to that, too. That’s why have that hunch that the Israelis and Saudis try something violent in Lebanon, to ‘break Hezbollah’ and ‘break Iran’. Didn’t work the last few times and liklely won’t work this time again. But then, such dreams exist, and, well, often they come as ‘punchs in the mouth’.

  35. aka says:

    what ever it is I sincerely hope that no one is stupid enough to repeat a Beirut 83.
    Because this time it would result in an actual war.

  36. turcopolier says:

    It has that effect but the error is to think that policy is driven by that effect. pl

  37. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Just discovered it is browser-dependent.
    Responding to the comment (currently #36) from jld,
    I tried it in Firefox.
    Bingo! Firefox went straight to the comment.
    But with the same URL, IE (under Windows 7)
    only goes to the top of the post.
    Just thought I’d report this in case anyone else is interested.
    And thanks to jld for saying it works in Firefox.

  38. LondonBob says:

    Yes an overt attack on US forces in Syria would be disastrous, if they do stay better to isolate and squeeze them. The bad guys wish to use US forces as bait, best not to take it.
    I remember, many years ago, listening to Jesse Ventura and Donald Trump talking about politics and current affairs. Ventura said the thing he most admired about Reagan was that after the Beirut bombing he decided to pull US forces rather than escalate, Trump thought that was an interesting perspective. I hope Trump remembers that too.

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