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Old 04-29-2013   #1
jcustis
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Default What will our expedition to Afghanistan teach us?

Post up your top five lessons that you hope are gleaned from our long stay in AFG. Whether we have the capacity to grasp the lesson is important, but not critical.

In no particular order, mine are:

1) The national policy goals should be clear and concise, and the integrated plan to achieve them must be properly resourced. Make sure everyone understands the goals and the plan.

2) We can't expect a tribal society to drink the democratic Kool-Aid just because we say so. The manner in which Karzai controlled the levers to choose provincial governors, and they in turn the district governors and the police chiefs, should have been a warning that our wants did not nest with reality. Those who benefit from his patronage won't be there to protect him when Karzai is strung up in a Kabul square.

3) The FOB concept was another massive failure, considering the need to secure the population and obvious approaches that work.

4) When the security forces you are training start turning on you, it is a clue. Pay attention and don't blame the victims.

5) Our disregard for the nexus of drugs, narco-warlords, and the Taliban connection, prolonged the war. Good men died because possession of ten kilos of heroin didn't warrant action by the toothless courts, among other rule of law shortcomings.

The bonus lesson is that we should have lived intermingled with the population. No commuting to work...no return to the COP at night for hot chow and a cot. If we really want to deal with rural insurgency, we've got to own it, every minute of every hour of every day. The insurgents do, and that's why they will prevail.

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Old 04-30-2013   #2
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Default Maybe Take A Second Look At Nuclear Weapons

William S. Lind in his article "4GW First Blow A Quick Look"(available in Marine Corps Gazette Archive" thought that a Nuclear Retaliation was a viable option in the first few days after the 911 attacks to show the little terrorist how a true Super Power would respond.

I don't know if we should do this but it is worth a second look. We cannot keep spending what may amount to 3 Trillion dollars(A'stan and Iraq and GWOT) for Small Wars that we don't even win.
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Old 04-30-2013   #3
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Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
Post up your top five lessons that you hope are gleaned from our long stay in AFG. Whether we have the capacity to grasp the lesson is important, but not critical.

In no particular order, mine are:

1) The national policy goals should be clear and concise, and the integrated plan to achieve them must be properly resourced. Make sure everyone understands the goals and the plan.

2) We can't expect a tribal society to drink the democratic Kool-Aid just because we say so. The manner in which Karzai controlled the levers to choose provincial governors, and they in turn the district governors and the police chiefs, should have been a warning that our wants did not nest with reality. Those who benefit from his patronage won't be there to protect him when Karzai is strung up in a Kabul square.

3) The FOB concept was another massive failure, considering the need to secure the population and obvious approaches that work.

4) When the security forces you are training start turning on you, it is a clue. Pay attention and don't blame the victims.

5) Our disregard for the nexus of drugs, narco-warlords, and the Taliban connection, prolonged the war. Good men died because possession of ten kilos of heroin didn't warrant action by the toothless courts, among other rule of law shortcomings.

The bonus lesson is that we should have lived intermingled with the population. No commuting to work...no return to the COP at night for hot chow and a cot. If we really want to deal with rural insurgency, we've got to own it, every minute of every hour of every day. The insurgents do, and that's why they will prevail.
I need more time to reflect on this, but I thought the Army's white paper on the lessons learned over the past decade was way off the mark and mostly a self-serving paper to justify the Army's current vision. I have some initial thoughts on your comments.

1. National goals must be practical, thus feasible. It is much better to under promise and over deliver, then over promise and under deliver. We achieved a lot in Afghanistan in short order, but my staying to achieve the unachievable it now appears to be loss.

2. Most unconventional warfare adventures and military occupations result in failure because we pick and buy the easiest proxies to work with, not the best proxies, which generally over time backfires. The he's a bastard, but he's our bastard whether Karzai, the Shah of Iran, or the Contras may sound like realpolitik, but when you look at the long data it tells a different story.

3. While U.S. forces may not be welcomed in the local villages, the FOB concept is flawed. I suspect we would see a different situation today if we picked another horse other than Karzai to ride AND we employed better tactics such as implementing something along the VSO program early in the war, and using general purpose forces to aggressively and persistently patrol the areas between the villages. Taking and holding (controlling) ground is as important as it always was. The enemy needs a degree of freedom of movement to operate, if you control the ground (and you don't from a FOB) you greatly reduce his effectiveness, especially if the VSO program is flushing out the shadow governments. While we evolved our UAV and man hunting tactics to a razor's edge, they ultimately failed to facilitate anything resembling a decisive tactical operation.
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Old 05-01-2013   #4
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Not employing a village-based focus could have made it into my top five very easily. I could see the issue with that the day I started formal prep for my deploy there.

I knew we were screwed the first time I got the sense that VSO was not considered in the capability set of general purpose forces. Yeah, great strategy implementation on that one...
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Old 05-01-2013   #5
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Without any great depth of thought or reflection, the few that jumped into my head:

1) Vehicles are a means to an end, and should not become the end itself. There is a time and place for vehicle-based patrolling, but I am willing to bet that there is a proportionally greater need for dismounted patrolling in any type of operation. If we spend more time, effort and focus, both at the tactical/planning level and at the capability level (MRAPs?) on issues of vehicle platforms we need to do a reality check.

2) Tactical lethality at the section/squad level matters. Our sections/squads should be able to finish a fight, not just suppress. Artillery is nice, air support is nicer still, but we shouldn't have to rely on it to win an engagement. Sections and squads need to be able to do more than just suppress with small arms, they need to be able to fire and manoeuvre to win. I think the USMC has taken a step in the right direction with the IAR and the Brit Army an even better step with their 7.62mm DMW in putting a precise, powerful rifle at the lowest tactical level. I'm interested as to what the XM25 offers, too (despite my initial cynicism around such a heavy, power and tech intensive weapon).

3) Speaking the local language is very, very important. I don't think this is COIN specific, as I'm pretty sure the ability to talk with, gain info from and quickly direct locals would be equally important in a Cold War German battlefield, for example.

4) Campaign planning is essential. Killcullen's 28 principles of COIN does not equate to a campaign plan, despite the widespread interpretation of FM 3-24 in many military minds. Being able to drag an end-state out of anyone, at any time, that relates to the real world (and not a powerpoint matrix as is all too often the case) is the starting point for assessing whether a campaign plan exists.

5) Leadership is still about people. Powerpoint can't replace an orders group, an inspection or a CO's/OC's/Pl Comd's hour with soldiers.
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Old 05-02-2013   #6
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1) An insurgency is a political problem with a military dimension, treat it as such; understand the politics of the problem in order to understand the politics of the solution.

2) Set domestic conditions early for a long commitment. COIN takes time, nation building takes longer.

3) Build the police and judicial system first or at least concurrent with indigenous military capacity.

4) In a failed state establishing a government with no capacity to govern is not necessarily a good idea. A government with no civil service and no educated middle class to become a civil service is a government in name only, then giving it autonomy but no capacity is inviting failure.

5) Controlling the population is as important as securing the population.
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Old 05-02-2013   #7
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Nothing we shouldn't have learned from Vietnam, IMO. Or any number of other places. Sadly, I have great faith in the institution's ability to learn exactly nothing lasting from all this (except perhaps the desire to plan for fantasy war).

Sorry if that sounds cynical, but just about everything listed here could have been gleaned from a good review of stuff that came out during and immediately after Vietnam. Or a close reading of the original Small Wars Manual.

As for using nukes...there are other consequences far beyond just the desire to use the big one. I don't consider that a viable option in situations like this...no matter how much Lind may think they're useful.
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Old 05-03-2013   #8
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Quote:
2) Set domestic conditions early for a long commitment. COIN takes time, nation building takes longer.
I like this point, and yes, expectations need to be set early, vice trying to manage them later when support, patience, and endurance wanes.

Where again did we turn the corner towards nation-building in AFG? Was it a creep or a sharper turn, because I cannot put my finger on it.
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Old 05-03-2013   #9
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Some quick opinions from an economic and political point of view, Red Rat did anticipate me somewhat:

1) War is still the continuation of politics with the 'intermixation' of military means. The will of the populations, the internal political games by the various actors at home and in the host nation and so forth all play a role.

2) In COIN political and economic and many other non-military means are of considerable importantance but often outside of the direct political control or even influence of the foreign nation. It can be much harder to get a specific job done at all, not to talk about getting it done efficiently. Friction is very high. Once again circumstances matter.

3) The specific political goals set by the political actors, in this case by the foreign nation should of course be determined by the (ultimate) political purpose. The resulting strategy will include in case of war those military means. Shifting the political goals, in this case seemingly from a good beating to nation-building, might not match the long-term political purpose and will of course force big shifts down the command chain and lots of different ressources.

4) Economic, political and social development in the host or occupied nation depends a great deal on the set of circumstances at the start. Simply pumping in money is generally highly inefficient or even counter-productive as it sets the wrong incentives. Amazingly macro 101 gets often ignored and in the case of a big wealthy nation just more money gets thrown at the problem (Karzai ) instead.

5) Not reaching ambitious political goals in a foreign land far away does of course hurt and will have negative consequences but for the big wealthy nation it is nothing vital. Think about potential positive effects, fewer arguments for Tsarnaevs, but especially about opportunity costs and sunk ones. Life will go mostly on as normal (as if it didn't already during the war), sadly not for those who suffered big physical and mental wounds in the war. For pretty much all the rest of the guys at home little will be changed.


*Almost ten years ago I could not believe that a Foreign Policy article (IIRC) did rather favourably compare the chances of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan to the ones in Germany and Japan after the war. The author had clearly no clue of economics. Especially in Germany a lot of technology, human and physical capital was ready to get kickstarted or better to act alone if not suppressed too much. Letting the economic engine get running again was actually are rather easy job compared to building an new working one from the scratch. The political and social foundations were also completely different.
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Old 05-03-2013   #10
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Where again did we turn the corner towards nation-building in AFG? Was it a creep or a sharper turn, because I cannot put my finger on it.
If I remember rightly the initial 2001 Bonn Agreement was setting the course towards nation-building, reinforced by the long term approach adopted in the 2002 Tokyo Donor's Conference. Certainly at the beginning of the UK's involvement there was widespread recognition that the UK would be involved for something like 25 years in order to achieve a degree of capacity building. Then as security conditions worsened long-term capacity building appeared to have been increasingly shelved in favour of short-term mitigation measures; we went from a rehabilitation programme to sticking plasters on the patient.

So to answer the question I think we turned the corner away from nation building and that this happened incrementally over the period 2006-9.
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Old 05-03-2013   #11
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That is an amazingly interesting perspective.

I will bone up on those events and agreements you have referenced. I believe we will require a brutally-honest and transparent post-mortem of the train wreck if we are to pay any honest respect to the dead. I want the responsible actors to be accountable and the history to remain clear.
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Old 05-03-2013   #12
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@Red Rat: I guess you are right. It is important to remember how quickly the enemy has been 'defeated' and a good deal of the beating was given. The policy makers seemed to have turned quickly to nation-building, stating so much in it the Bonn agreement in December 2011.

Now paper is patient as the Germans say and between the saying and the doing lies the sea we Italians all too often state. The big questions are:

1) How shovel ready were the important political and economic projects. Were there enough of them?

2) How much mental effort and ressources were available and were directed towards them?

3) How smartly and efficently were those projects put into practice?

It would be nice to see for example the scorecard of basic physical infrastructure (streets, grids, water, ITC,...) created in the first years in Afghanistan after 9/11. At least that should be relatively easy to evaluate in an objective way.
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Old 05-03-2013   #13
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Default Good points by RR

Because it was felt early on that "Rumsfeldian transformation" had worked so quickly and brilliantly at toppling the Taliban without the dreaded mass (which, to be fair, was seen as exacerbating Afghan sensibilities, too many troops I mean), attention was turned almost immediately to peace time activities. And, of course, to Iraq.

NATO thought it had got a peacetime nation building activity, so the reliance on 90s era lessons learned, as in "capacity building". But violence didn't stay down so building could not be done. The violence precluded nation building activities so of course one turned away, except, we didn't really, we just added violence to the mix: FM3-24.

Posted at SWJ earlier in the blog section was a piece by the Afghan Analysts Network entitled "Snapshots". From that piece:

Quote:
2002-2003: Despite some on-going fighting in the Southern part of the country, the resistance was basically deemed to have ended and many countries were not sure of the utility of further international forces.
As the building went on, and attention turned elsewhere, the old neighboring regional and local compulsions slowly re-emerged and the 2009 surge only made the desire to hold onto gains that much stronger by all local and regional partners and adversaries, the entire mad mix of players, good and bad depending on one's point of view.

It is curious. A global war on terror was envisioned but almost no thought was given to the reasons for disorder spilling onto American shores from the region other than, "we need stability." This goes for both Administrations, Bush and Obama, and is embedded in both approaches, the Rumsfeldian and the AfPak strategy. NATO leadership had the same ideas.

That is why I keep asking people to review the history of the American military and its Nato partners in the region going back to the early days of the Cold War. We've been here before when it comes to creating or sustaining armies/intelligence and expecting it all to fit into our larger security paradigms. The late Lt. Col Nathaniel Hoskot is the name to look up on our early involvement in the region and its intellectual residues within the military, etc.

PS: On a certain level, FM 3-24 was simply the militarized version of the basic 2002-2003 understanding and phenomenon of capacity building and stability as a source of security in the region.

I don't know why the idea of capacity building as a deterrent to violence remains so embedded within the institutional mindset. The evidence in Afghanistan doesn't support the conclusion.

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Old 05-03-2013   #14
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Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
That is an amazingly interesting perspective.

I will bone up on those events and agreements you have referenced. I believe we will require a brutally-honest and transparent post-mortem of the train wreck if we are to pay any honest respect to the dead. I want the responsible actors to be accountable and the history to remain clear.
Agree 100%.
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Old 05-03-2013   #15
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Originally Posted by Madhu View Post
Because it was felt early on that "Rumsfeldian transformation" had worked so quickly and brilliantly at toppling the Taliban without the dreaded mass (which, to be fair, was seen as exacerbating Afghan sensibilities, too many troops I mean), attention was turned almost immediately to peace time activities. And, of course, to Iraq.

NATO thought it had got a peacetime nation building activity, so the reliance on 90s era lessons learned, as in "capacity building". But violence didn't stay down so building could not be done.
.
I wonder if the economic emphasis on small government played a role in the lack of quick direct investments in big and small infrastructure. Basically let us first set the proper liberal market and political framework in place to then allow the Afghani economy to flourish. Correct me if I'm wrong on the 'lack' of said investment.

Figuratively spoken, employing quickly hundred thousends of Afghan men with shovels in relative sensible way for a very low wage for American standards on things like road work might have very efficient for the Western taxpayers if nation-building was it indeed. Maybe many thought there was a good amount of time as the peace was secured, so one had not to hurry to get such things underway. I certainly don't know...
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Old 05-03-2013   #16
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Default Nation building is viewed as sovereignty building in the region

You cannot divorce these lessons from the larger regional competitions. We turned away from nation building because violence increased and it increased for a complicated reasons.

We mistook the idea that our original victory was in any way durable. And a 25 year time span is nonsensical. I'm sorry I'm so adamant on this point but this is the source of so many troubles in Afghanistan and the larger neighborhood; the idea that others won't react to our long term plans because they conflict with local and regional plans.

If this is the lesson learned, that we turned away from nation building and that is the source of our troubles, then I am very afraid the lessons will not help.

Again, sorry to be so troublesome on the matter but it really requires a broader lens.
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Old 05-03-2013   #17
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Default @ Firn

That's an interesting thought. I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong and it requires both a broad and very detailed lens so this is exactly the conversation that needs to take place?
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Old 05-03-2013   #18
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Just a few of quick points:
1. Too many people underestimate how good a system "western democracy" is..for any country.
2. But its not black or white. You can (and will) have modern democracy with many many shortcomings for a very long time...in any country. But especially in poor countries where many of its modern institutions and traditions are imported and not organically developed in-situ...but even so, it can work.
3. US policy makers seem to have tried a "worst of both worlds" approach. Cynically manipulate, bribe, kill etc..and dont do it with enough intelligence to make it work.
4. That's a case by case judgement. In the best case, the people running the intervention have to be exceptional...in many cases, one exceptional person is the key. But the US is not an ancient imperial power with personalized leadership and informal networks..its a very bureaucratic modern state. That makes one think it shouldn't have tried what its institutions are not designed to do well. But there are second best options it could still have tried. Hell, it could try them even now.
5. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
6. Afghanistan is a viable country. It is even a viable democracy, but with Afghan characteristics (which may be far from Nebraska norms..but that's their problem, why should everything be America's problem?). But it was not (and is not) going to work if the hardcore Taliban are brought into it. At the same time, keeping them out is primarily an Afghan problem. WITH American help and intelligent use of its absolutely stunning technological superiority there is no reason why an American Najibullah could not beat them back for good. Even now.
7. Underestimating the hardcore enemy and having no clear mission proved costly. Were whatever "real" aims the US had in Afghanistan too base to be publicly admitted? if so, its good the US failed. If not, why the lack of clarity? It reflects poorly on US bureaucratic decision making either way.
8. In the proverbial long run, the hardcore Taliban are just a tool and not one that will last forever or work too well. If not the US, then China, or Russia or Iran or India..someone will help other Afghans cook their primitive goose. Their more modern backers, cough cough, were a different issue. They could have been convinced to let them go if the "convincers" were surer of their own ground (I am not convinced of the theory that the convincers have secret malevolent intentions that are very different from what "we" are being told...I think if they were that kind of evil genius, we wouldnt be having this discussion...but then again, how would I know?).
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Old 05-05-2013   #19
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Default Big Picture Problems

These are a few thoughts, not five yet, still thinking about it. I look at these as root issues: what caused us to approach the problem, and therefore develop a solution, the wrong way. Unfortunately I see them more as lessons we should have learned, but didn't.

1. Values are not universal, they are conditional. To steal a quote from Fredrick Engles: "the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion..." Or, looked at another way, people value survival and identity more than freedom and liberty when survival is the more pressing need. The neocons assumed that everyone love freedom above all else, and therefore would swarm to democracy. This was an error. Unfortunately it is an error shared by many in the west. Look at the difference between the UN's declaration of "Universal " human rights and the African Union's declaration and you will see significant differences. As long as we believe that everyone is (or at least wants to be) like us we will continue to intervene to fix problems we don't understand.

2. Political legitimacy and coercion are not the same. Here I must define my terms. Political legitimacy is "precisely the belief in the rightfulness of a state, in its authority to issue commands, so that those commands are obeyed not simply out of fear or self-interest, but because they are believed in some sense to have moral authority, because the subjects believe they ought to be obeyed" (Barker). Notice the quote, "not out of fear or self-interest". The threat of punishment or the offer of benefit constitute coercion. So, using the offer of new roads or hospitals or even economic reward does not make your government legitimate. It is a form of coercion that lasts only as long as the goods keep coming. Legitimacy is following the edicts of the government because you believe they are right: that they match you moral beliefs and values. You cannot create political legitimacy using either threat or benefit. You can control a population using threat or benefit: using coercion. Just don't confuse the two.

3. The idea of a State or Nation is not universal. In fact, the idea of a "Nation" is a foreign concept in many parts of the world. In remote areas government authority only extends to the edge of the valley or this side of the river. Government - or political leadership - is a very local concept. The idea of being part of a "state" is not real. It is an illusion westerners created and imposed on the rest of the world to make it easier for us to understand and work with, not easier for the indigenous population to work with.

4. Nation Building and Social Engineering are not the same thing. Even assuming the population sees itself as part of a "Nation" it does not mean that they are socially ready to work within it. When you are trying to take a society that is deeply religious and turn it secular you are not Nation Building, you are trying to alter the cultural make-up of the society. This is infinitely more difficult that simple Nation Building.

I am still working on five.
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Old 05-05-2013   #20
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Great replies, all of you.

Madhu and Curmudgeon, you've raised the discourse to a macro view, which is refreshing to see considering that I am degreed in Political Science.

Your thoughts could very easily expand into an excellent Foreign Affairs article, and I would enjoy reading it. The point that nation-building is seen as sovereignty-building in the region is a very astute one.

One quick question I want to toss out is if We agree that Red Rat has identified how we got our butts into nation/capacity-building, is there a bread crumb or two that speaks to when we stepped off that path?

I never noticed a shift because I was prepping for my Afghan deploy in 2009 and into 2010 (having finished an Iraq deploy in April '09), and FM 3-24 remained a bible we were leaning on. The notion of the PRT somehow holding the key to the lock box of answers was rampant to the point of a farce by the time I saw the PRT's shoddy work.

I appreciate the thoughts folks because this is important stuff. As I mentioned earlier, history needs to hold people accountable. More importantly, my personal skin in this game comes when one of my grandchildren asks me what Afghanistan was like. I want to know the reality of how it went down, outside of my valley, so I can tell them the truth. I imagine Cole (Infanteer) has the same desire.

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