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Pentagon Defends U.S. War Plan in Iraq

Aired April 1, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Targets and tactics. Coalition forces zero in on their ultimate goal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're seeing now are increasing indications that the focus of the land war will soon be Baghdad.

ANNOUNCER: Taking aim at terror, an inside look at a crushed training camp in northern Iraq with alleged links to al Qaeda.

Wounded servicemen who became fast friends and fellow senators, share their war stories.

BOB DOLE, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Three more weeks, the war was over. We could have been there for the victory party, instead, we were both flat on our backs in the hospital somewhere. And, but as it turned out, I guess we did all right for a couple of guys.

ANNOUNCER: CNN live this hour. Judy Woodruff reports from Washington with correspondents from around the world. A special edition of "INSIDE POLITICS: The War in Iraq" starts right now.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. Within the past couple of hours here in Washington, a very heated defense from the Pentagon of the U.S. war plan in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied that he is trying to distance himself from the war plan in the face of critics, some of them on the ground in Iraq, who said he did not send enough troops to Iraq. A senior administration source insisting that the president has tremendous faith in Rumsfeld.

Also, on the home front today ...


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: The war on terrorism has two fronts. And we need to apply the same vigilance, the same commitment that we're showing abroad to our anti-terrorism efforts here at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: Democrats do battle over funding for the war on terrorism.

Plus, from the University of Michigan to the U.S. Supreme Court, justices are confronted with the question, should race be a factor in college admissions?

Those stories just ahead. Right now, let's go live to Kuwait City and my colleague, Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy. We're getting word here in the war zone that some coalition forces have begun receiving a battle plan that suggests the Iraqi capital will soon be the focus of the ground war. You are looking at a live picture of Baghdad, a picture right now, sources tell CNN, General Tommy Franks has been given the green light to lead the charge into Baghdad as soon as he thinks the time is right.

U.S.-led forces say they've had more success in softening up Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard forces. The Pentagon says two Republican Guard divisions around Baghdad have been reduced to less than half their fighting capability. But Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz says he's confident his country will be victorious. An Arab television interview with Aziz aired within the past couple of hours.

As coalition troops advance on the ground, coalition aircraft continue to take aim at targets inside Iraq. CNN's Gary Tuchman is with us now from an air base here in the Persian Gulf, not far from the Iraqi border -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hello to you. And by the time this night is over, the coalition will have flown more than 20,000 sorties into Iraq over the last two weeks, precisely 13 days, since this war began. Of those 20,000 sorties, about 40 percent are strike sorties, using bombs or missiles. The other 60 percent, combat support sorties, which include transportation, which include refueling.

Now, today, the Pentagon allowed us to go on another sortie with the air force. This was a transport sortie. Seven helicopter mechanics were taken to a base in Iraq. It used to be an Iraqi air base until last week. Now it has become a coalition air base since the coalition took it over. So, these seven men traveled on the plane. They'll fix helicopters that are staging there, HH-60 helicopters. They are search-and-rescue helicopters.

Also staging at this particular base, by the way, A-10 attack aircraft. But aboard this plane today, we flew into Iraq at an altitude of 250 to 350 feet the entire ride over the desert. The reason for that, to avoid Iraqi radar. No Iraqi planes have taken to the sky since this war began, according to the air force. However, Iraq has fired artillery at the planes. Hasn't hit any planes, but the planes are very careful when they fly into Iraq so they fly very low and they often fly zigzaggy as they cross the desert. About this base, 125 miles into Iraq, past the Kuwait border, the U.S. is staging planes right there as we speak. But, ultimately the plan is to base some of the A-10 Warhog aircrafts behind me at the base in Iraq. Right now, they are building up the base to make it more inhabitable for the coalition troops who are already there. And they plan to have more there soon -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman at an air base not far from the Iraqi border. Gary, thanks very much.

Judy, I'll be back here in Kuwait City at the top of the hour for a full hour of coverage, a special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," until then, back to you in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf.

Meantime, the U.S. military says it is investigating the shooting deaths of seven Iraqi women and children at a checkpoint near Najaf in southern Iraq. The incident was among the key issues talked about at today's CENTCOM briefing in Qatar. CNN's Tom Mintier was there.


TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The issue of checkpoints have been high on the military's agenda here at Central Command and high on the press list of questions as well. This since an event occurred on Saturday, when a suicide bomber approached the 3rd Infantry Division checkpoint on a highway in Iraq. The man got out of the car, waved his arms and the soldiers came forward, only to have an explosion detonate and four U.S. soldiers were killed.

There was another incident that occurred in the last 24 hours, where somebody came forward, according to the CENTCOM officials, at a checkpoint, also in the same area. According to CENTCOM, they were warning shots fired and then shots fired to try to disable the vehicle. And according to CENTCOM, then shots fired into the center of the vehicle that killed seven passengers. When they opened it, it was only women and children, according to CENTCOM officials.

That has caused them to question whether the rules of operation are correct. Not specifically the rules of engagement, but how they deal with civilian vehicles at check points. CENTCOM officials are saying that these vehicles are pushed into going forward, saying the paramilitaries are forcing them into confrontations at the checkpoints.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I certainly can't presuppose what decisions are being made or what decision were made by the people in that vehicle. What we do know is that we've been broadcasting now for a good period of time, since about the 17th of February, 24 hours a day on five different frequencies. And consistent throughout that time have been messages that say, avoid coalition troops, avoid the places where combat is going to occur.

MINTIER: In an apparent effort to once again put forward the fact they are operating in a precision manner, they showed several examples of bombing of tanks, a weapons storage facility just outside of Baghdad and a fuel truck also in Iraq that were hit by coalition forces. This apparently to point up the fact that they are able to fire with precision.

There has also been the accusation that meals have been hard to come by in the field. We had a background briefing with a senior CENTCOM official who says that shouldn't be a problem, that there are 480,000 meals available to people on the ground in Iraq, every day.

Tom Mintier, CNN, at CENTCOM headquarters, Doha, Qatar.


WOODRUFF: Lots to follow to keep up with feeding a big army.

Well, after a change of plans, several thousand fresh American troops have arrived in Kuwait to prepare for action in Iraq. The troops are part of the army's 4th Division. and they were expecting to invade Iraq from the north. But as we now know, Turkey forced the U.S. military to switch to plan B and send the troops to Kuwait instead. Here's CNN's Richard Blystone.


RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has been a long wait for the 4th Division soldiers. Originally slated to strike from the north through Turkey. Here comes plan B. The first 5,000 troops of the 4th Division have already flown into Kuwait. When the other 25,000 get here, they'll add 10 percent to the allied force in the region, after they've met up with their war machines.

(on camera): Flexibility is the military buzzword of the day. And this equipment has been flexing its way out of the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea and around the Arabian Peninsula and up here to Kuwait for nearly two weeks. This gear is the most modern the U.S. army has, with digitized battlefield information on display and everything from the general's tent to the corporal's humvee.

BRIG. GEN. STEPHEN SPEAKES, U.S. ARMY 4TH DIVISION: It transforms night into day. It transforms the fog of the battlefield where you don't know where a friend is or where a foe is into a level of certainty that enables you to operate decisively and with speed.

BLYSTONE: It will take a couple of weeks for the 4th to be ready for battle. And its ultimate mission, like the helicopter with in the shrinkwrap, can be only dimly perceived. Will its relatively fresh troops lead a charge into Baghdad, sweep into northern Iraq or help mop of the problem to the rear? The general will say only that the 4th could do any of those. The last time this division saw combat it was also fulfilling a need for more troops. That war was Vietnam.

Richard Blystone, CNN, Kuwait.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: And as we're following our main story, of course, the action on the ground and in the air over Iraq, there's a story developing here in the United States that started in Asia. And that is this so-called mystery illness, SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. An airplane which landed in San Jose, California this afternoon was held on the ground for a couple of hours after it came in from Tokyo because several passengers complained of symptoms of what appeared to be SARS, this illness that has been diagnosed in the last few weeks out of Asia.

CNN correspondent Mike Brooks is with me now. He's a former law enforcement officer, former security official. Mike, we know that American airlines and also local health authorities there in Santa Clara county, where San Jose is, had to make a decision to keep people on board that plane until they decided what to do. What is involved in a situation like this?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the captain on this American Airlines flight did a good job in deciding to go ahead and keep these people there until they figured out exactly what to do. Now, about a week ago, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention here in Atlanta contacted all the major airlines and recommended to them that they carry surgical masks on board the aircraft.

Now, a lot of the airlines already did this as part of their universal protection kit that they use to deal with in case someone gets cut on a flight, those kinds of things. And those that didn't they recommended they did get surgical masks. But, apparently, these five people on board started to show signs and symptoms of SARS.

Now, again we don't know exactly if what these people had is severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS. But, apparently, they started exhibiting signs and symptoms. And this is a subtle cough, a fever of above 100.4 degrees farenheit, 38 degrees celsius. And he decided to go ahead and contact his control tower and they contacted the Santa Clara county health department.

Now, after they arrived there, on the ground, they decided to go ahead and hold everyone there. Some officials from he health department from Santa Clara county came on board, along with emergency medical technicians, took these people off. And then they took the airplane to the gate and let the other passengers off.

Now it's not known, again, we want to be specific, but it's not said specifically whether this is SARS or not. Now, they'll be taken to the hospital, evaluated by medical personnel there and then also, if they are not exhibiting anything else, they'll probably go home and tell them to contact their doctor and to contact the health department, if they do start to get any more symptoms, plus, you know like chills and normal flu symptoms, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Mike, we know from talking to a passenger on that plane a short time ago, a gentleman, a Mr. Tak I talked to a few minutes ago, he said that they were briefed, all the other passengers on board were briefed. They were told that as far as authorities knew that this illness had not been transmitted on aircraft like this. But, of course, authorities don't want to take any chances in a situation like this.

BROOKS: No, they don't. It usually comes through direct contact with bodily fluids or respiratory fluids of loose cough, those kinds of things. Not very pleasant to talk about, but it's a reality. Usually if you come in direct contact with someone, that's where they usually will be concerned. And they will ask you, did you come in direct contact with anyone? Or did you visit a region where a lot of these SARS cases have been happening, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, that part of Asia -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Mike, thank you very much. Mike Brooks, who is a CNN correspondent with a lot of experience in the security and the law enforcement world. Again, more than 60 people worldwide have died from this disease -- or illness known as SARS. Two more deaths announced today in Canada by Canadian authorities. So very much something that health officials all over the world are trying to get a deeper understanding of and also, of course, keep it from spreading.

Coming up next at this hour, the latest intelligence on Saddam Hussein, his health and his grip on power.

Plus, an inside look at an alleged terrorist training camp wiped out by coalition forces.


WOODRUFF: This was the statement today said to be from Saddam Hussein. It was read on Iraqi television by Iraq's information minister. All of which raise new questions about Saddam's health and his viability as a leader of Iraq. With me now for more on all this is CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor.

You were just telling me it was al-Jazeera, the Arab television network, that predicted that Saddam Hussein would come out and speak on Iraqi television. He didn't do so. The question is, you know, was anybody really expecting to today.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Reuters, the wire service, said that he would come out and address the nation. Then al-Jazeera said so, but Iraqi television never did say so. And, In fact, what happened today was something that used to happen during the first Gulf War, which was that Saddam Hussein would, it would be announced that he had something to say. And then someone else would come out on television and read what was supposedly his words. Now, of course, as U.S. officials are quick to point out today, this does nothing to tell us whether he's alive, injured or dead. He has not appeared. So, it doesn't advance the thing that's the most interesting to U.S. intelligence right now, which is, where is Saddam?

WOODRUFF: And, you know, David, from the Pentagon, from the White House, there have been statements the last few days that appear to be trying to draw him out. You had Tory Clarke at the Pentagon yesterday and other officials saying we haven't seen hide or hair of him. I mean the fact is, we have not seen him live, at least, since this war got under way. ENSOR: That's right. And all these tapes that have been shown on Iraqi television, U.S. officials say every single one of them could easily have been recorded before the war. And they know, in fact, that Saddam did tape a bunch of messages before the war started, immediately before. So there really is some real question, since they do feel there is -- intelligence officials say they really are quite confident that he was in that bunker on March 19th, the first night when they hit it heavily with tons of ordnance.

WOODRUFF: And there was the report that at least one witness saw what appeared to be Saddam Hussein being carried out on a stretcher on his way to some sort of health ambulance or some other emergency vehicle.

ENSOR: There's that intelligence. There's also intelligence suggesting he's just fine and others suggesting he's dead. And they really haven't gotten anywhere yet. And this tape doesn't help.

WOODRUFF: But in the meantime they have to assume that he's alive.

ENSOR: They have to assume he's alive because the operating assumption is the regime would start to crumble, that it would start to fall apart at the seams. That there would be some jockeying for power if he weren't there anymore.

WOODRUFF: If it were clear that he weren't around.

ENSOR: Right.

WOODRUFF: David Ensor, thanks very much, our national security correspondent. Well, reporters in northern Iraq today got a first- hand look inside a town that was said to be a stronghold for the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam. U.S. officials say the area was overrun last week by U.S. special forces and by Kurdish militia fighters. CNN's Brent Sadler has the story.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A group of Iraqi Kurdish fighters shows off the spoils of war. Leading us into recently captured territory and the smash remains of what they claim was once the hub of a terrorist network. A terror network they've been fighting for years called Ansar al-Islam. The heart of that network wreaks fear, it claims, inside this mosque.

At a remote Kurdish village called Biara on the border with Iran. Parts of the mosque were flattened. The dome peppered with large shrapnel holes from American air strikes. Unavoidable damage say Kurdish officials in their battle to root out and destroy a web of terrorist strongholds. Supported and funded it's claimed here by al Qaeda itself.

When the battle against Ansar was joined, it turned into a route, taking Kurdish forces just 36 hours to defeat their enemy. The first major battlefield operation linking American special forces and Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. It became a spectacular success, claim these American special force officers, breaking their cover. Heaping praise on the thousands of Peshmerga fighters who bore the brunt of close-quarters combat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a classic example.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say it's an outstanding example of what special forces train for in the United states, unconventional warfare, working with an indigenous force to add to their capabilities and add assistance and advice where we can.

SADLER: Ansar's forces put up a ferocious fight it's claimed, hundreds dead, the rest fleeing over the border to Iran. At least one of them pretended to surrender, but blew himself up. And Ansar may have abandoned some incriminating evidence under the rubble, possibly supporting alleged links to al Qaeda-sponsored terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have found various documents, equipment, et cetera, that would indicate a presence of chemical and/or biological weapons.

SADLER (on camera): It now begs the question that American and Kurdish forces can work so well together here, then why not expand operations to break Saddam Hussein's control over the key northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul? There may be no precise plan for that to happen now, but the Iraqi Kurds are pushing for it.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Biara, northern Iraq.


WOODRUFF: Raising tantalizing questions about whether there were chemical or biological weapons there. We'll just have to find out.

Well, even as the war occupies most of the headlines, the business of government continues here in Washington. When we come back, our Jon Karl updates the debates in Congress over the cost of war and homeland security.


WOODRUFF: On Capitol Hill these days, some lawmakers are balking about giving President Bush the freedom he wants over funding for the war in Iraq and the battle against terrorism. Let's check in with congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONRGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you remember the president requested $74.7 billion to fight the war in Iraq and to get some money for homeland security. As an emergency spending bill, he was very firm saying he didn't want to spend any more than that. Well, the Senate Appropriations Committee has just completed work on that Bill, and they have brought it to a total of $79 billion and counting. Democrats are prepared as this debate goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate to ask for more money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cannot do this on the cheap. Homeland security requires financial resources to be able to meet the need of the homeland troops, which are policemen, firefighters, emergency management people, and then the support for local public health people and their personnel.

KARL (voice-over): Democrats want to more than double the president's request for homeland security, providing $4.3 billion to help states pay for firefighters, police officers and emergency medical workers, $2.9 billion for border and transportation security and $1 billion for port security. All told, the Democratic amendments would spend $9 billion on homeland security. A number chosen in part because it mirrors the amount that the president requested in foreign aid for Turkey, Israel, Jordan and other allies. The Democratic message? If we can afford to spend the money over there, we can afford to spend it here.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: They offered $1.6 trillion in new spending over the next 10 years on the budget, and now they are proposing, surprisingly, even more spending on the supplemental. This is all, unfortunately, about trying to make partisan politics a standard here in the United States Senate, when it comes to dealing with budgetary issues.

KARL: But Republicans have no problem adding money to help out the airlines. They've agreed to spend $3.5 billion to compensate the airlines for security costs, help laid off employees and extend federal war insurance coverage for a year. In exchange for the aid, the bill would require airlines to agree to a two-year freeze on the compensation of top airline executives.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We want to make sure that money is in no way being siphoned off to unfairly benefit management or executives. The money is going there for a very specific means, and we want to send that signal that it's not to be bailing out the high end or the employers, themselves, but it is to be directed to the implemental cost incurred because of the cost of this war.


KARL: And, Judy, the House Appropriations Committee has also just completed work on this bill. They have approved $78 billion to fight the war, and to bail out the airlines and to help protect homeland security over there on the House side. So, both sides moving very rapidly on this bill. No question it will pass. The question is, what at the end of the day will be the final price tag?

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl, they're moving ahead at the Capiotl, not being distracted by the detail events that were following in the war.

Thanks very much, Jon.

WOODRUFF: We want to bring you up to date now on that story we were telling you about earlier this afternoon. And that is the journalists with "Newsday," two of them, reporter Matthew McAllester and his photographer Moises Saman, another American freelance photographer named Molly Bingham, she and a Danish freelance photographer, Johann Spanner, have all now turned up on the Iraqi- Jordanian border, apparently safe and sound after have disappeared from their hotel room in Baghdad just about a week ago. A short time ago, Matthew McAllester, you see him on the left, who is a reporter for "Newsday" spoke with reporters on the Jordanian side of the border. Here's what he had to say.


MATHEW MCALLESTER, "NEWSDAY": We were in a Bukuray (ph) prison for seven or eight days. There were no specific charges. They -- it wasn't much fun, but we were not physically hurt, and we were very happy to be out. But the single most important thing is that we understand that there were many people who were trying their very hardest to get us out. And I think I speak for everyone that we are all incredibly grateful, and we're really quite happy to talk later, but we're a bit tired.


WOODRUFF: Matthew McAllester, a reporter for New York "Newsday," telling reporters, the first indication we've had, he said he and three other journalists were held in a prison in, apparently, in and around Baghdad for seven or eight days. He did say that they were not physically hurt. He said it quote, "wasn't much fun." He said they were held for no specific charges, and he said he would have more information later.

Again, Matthew McAllester, a reporter for "Newsday," his photographer Moises Saman, freelance photographer Molly Bingham, American, and also the Danish freelance photographer, Johann Spanner, all of them released, and today safe on the Jordanian side of the border with Iraq. Of course, as we get more information on their condition and what happened to them, we'll share that with you.

Coming up right now, it's just about half after the hour. We've got an at this hour headline coming right up.


WOODRUFF: Thanks, Heidi. We want to -- of course, we will bring you to the war in Iraq and the very latest developments there in just a moment.

But first, we want to focus now on that plane that flew from Tokyo to San Jose, California, held on the ground at the airport for almost two hours after several passengers and crew, we believe, exhibited symptoms of this Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS, this illness that has cropped up in Asia in the last few weeks.

CNN's Rusty Dornin is there at the San Jose Airport, and there is a news conference, I'm told, that's also under way, the Santa Clara County Health -- Public Health Department. Let's listen to what they are saying. (INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

WOODRUFF: We've been listening to health officials in Santa Clara County, California, the site of that American Airlines passenger plane that was kept on the tarmac for almost two hours while authorities came on board and, as you just hears, interviewed some of the passengers.

We've just heard them say, very quickly, they took three passengers to -- what appear to be passengers -- to a local hospital. They are observing them. They don't know that they have SARS, this so-called mystery illness, this illness that has been made public in the last several weeks, originating in Asia.

Still asking questions, but they are taking every precaution because, once this is diagnosed, it does move very quickly. And we now know that over 60 people have died of it around the world in just a matter of a few weeks.

Rusty Dornin is with us.

Rusty, it sounds as if Santa Clara is a county where health officials are very well briefed on all of this.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Judy. And also, there was a protocol instituted by the CDC on March 14, and people were well aware. The airlines were well aware of the protocol to follow if someone was complaining of these types of symptoms.

Now, Flight 128 is still sitting at the gate. Most of the passengers have gotten off the plane, cleared customs, gotten into their cars or busses and gone to their hotels or homes.

Now, what we do understand, of course, is that the pilot was informed somewhere on the flight, from Tokyo to Los Angeles, that one of the passengers needed medical assistance. Upon further, they discovered that there were five people that had some kind of symptoms of SARS. Two of those only had a dry cough. The other three were taken off the plane by ambulance and taken to a local -- the Valley Medical Center, where they are being evaluated to see if they may be exhibiting other SARS symptoms.

Now from what we understood initially, those five had all said they had been in Hong Kong. Now it's unclear whether these three actually had been in Hong Kong at all.

Now we did speak to a number of passengers when they came out of the terminal. No one seemed panicked. They all seemed very calm. I talk to one woman who sat very close to the three in question that were taken by ambulance, and she said the whole thing was no big deal.


BARBARA BEAM, AA FLIGHT 128 PASSENGER: Well, they would be calling us in the next 10 to 14 days to see if we're still alive and well, and if we had any symptoms, contact our doctors at home. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DORNIN: Now, they were all given the small CDC travelers alert, which are being issued to all passenger who come from areas that are in question. And, of course, Tokyo was not actually one of those areas, but because of what happened, all the passengers were given these information pamphlets and said to call in if they were feeling ill in any way.

Of course, we do know that the three are at the hospital, but we have no indication of whether they do have SARS or not -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right, Rusty. Even though those three people were taken to the hospital, it is not known yet whether they have SARS. They have not yet even determined whether they were in one of the cities where it is believed, whether it's Hong Kong, Singapore or, in fact, they said in all of Mainland China. We don't know yet. So we're waiting for at that information.

Rusty Dornin, thanks very much. But it's clear that health officials across the country are taking every precaution, because, as you heard, it's very difficult to diagnose. They don't have a clear lab test that they can do yet, and they want to be absolutely certain that this illness does not spread any more than it already has.

All right. That wraps up our coverage this hour. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," the latest on the war in Iraq right after a quick break.


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