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'Targets of Opportunity' Struck

Aired March 19, 2003 - 23:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: As we approach 11:00 o'clock here in the East, the president now 45 minutes ago made clear that the opening stages of the disarmament of Iraq, the war with Iraq, is under way. We know of at least two sites -- we have been told by our Pentagon correspondent of at least two sites around Baghdad that have been hit in what were called "targets of opportunity." And further, we know that at least one of those sites was an attempt to get at the Iraqi leadership. Whether that specifically included Saddam Hussein or not, we don't know. And we obviously do not know whether it was successful or not -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, one of the things that President Bush said in his speech tonight was to take note of what he said -- 35 countries -- I think that's what he said, 35 -- were supporting the United States, whether politically or militarily or with moral support. But of course, that has been one of the controversies over this war because there has not been anything like the kind of coalition that was assembled back in 1991.

And to go to some immediate reaction that is now coming out of some quarters in the Islamic world, we're seeing on wire reports from Indonesia, from Malaysia and from Thailand that moderate and conservative Islamic groups are saying that they condemn this attack and that it would lead to more attacks against the United States. And of course, that is one of the issues that many of the leaders who have been against this war here have warned about, that this could increase the incidence of terrorism. So we'll wait and, obviously, closely monitor what comes out of that.

We have not yet heard any reaction from the Arab world. We know that the Arab leaders, the Persian Gulf state leaders and other Arabs in this region, had basically resigned themselves to war. And of course, Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states are launching pads for this military action.

But let's go to Nic Robertson in Baghdad right now. And I just want to know, Nic, whether your Arabic-speaking colleagues there have been able to confirm some of what may have been going on on the Iraqi radio there and whether these announcers have, in fact, changed and whether there's some American military announcers going on there.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, we have indeed been monitoring those radio stations, and I would like to bring in CNN's Rym Brahimi, who is here with me right now. She has been listening in to those radio broadcasts since the anti-aircraft gunfire started this morning. Let me bring in Rym. RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. A few messages have been broadcast on Baghdad radio, the first one by the president's son, Uday Saddam Hussein, essentially making -- making a call to all the Iraqis, calling them to protect their leader, saying, "God give us patience. God protect our country from this foreign aggression. And God protect our leader." It was read by a presenter, and it was signed, if you will, Uday Saddam Hussein.

A couple of other stations just playing songs, local stations just playing songs, some of them in praise of President Saddam Hussein. The Quran was aired on another one, and another radio was broadcasting Iranian -- in Persian language. Now, some of the music has been, indeed, also broken up by various declarations of resistance to the foreign aggression, as they call it, pledges of allegiance to President Saddam Hussein, singing, even chanting, "Iraq will defend itself with all its might."

And just now, we've heard a voice on Iraqi radio. It seems to be the voice of the minister of information, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, talking about the battle in which Iraqis will emerge all-powerful, calling on Iraq's sons and members of the Baath Party to have faith, ending -- almost toward the end saying, "Victory is yours. It is certain. It is certain. It is certain."

Let me just put back Nic for the -- Nic Robertson, our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) national correspondent here for the rest of the coverage here from Baghdad.

ROBERTSON: Christiane, indeed, it does appear at this time that U.S. forces have not interrupted any of the radio services, the regular Baghdad radio services that we are able to pick up here at this time. We are obviously monitoring the radio stations here very closely.

I think one interesting perspective on this "target of opportunity," targeting President Saddam Hussein -- we saw yesterday rumors that Vice -- that Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had perhaps been killed, injured or had defected. Within half an hour of those rumors being broadcast internationally, the deputy prime minister was appearing on Iraqi television, on international television, talking about a psychological war, saying that there would be -- saying that there would be many more rumors like this.

This psychological campaign that the Iraqi leadership feels that it is under here is something -- a pressure to which it does appear to give in to, to a degree, to respond and show that these particular people, the deputy prime minister, for example, who have been -- who have been perhaps rumored to be dead or removed from the country -- they seem to want to stop those rumors quite quickly.

It will be interesting to see at this time whether or not the Iraqi leader chooses to do the same thing, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic, and have you been able to hear over the last couple of hours, since this started, any of the aircraft activity overhead? I know you spoke about the initial -- the initial anti- aircraft fire, but have you heard any American aircraft?

ROBERTSON: Indeed, we have not been able to see or hear any aircraft flying over here. There is almost nine tenths cloud cover over the city, very difficult to see anything. We certainly haven't heard anything. There have been a number of detonations coming from the southern side of the city, perhaps maybe 10, 15 kilometers towards the south side of the city. Difficult to judge the distance, difficult also to judge whether or not this is heavy anti-aircraft batteries or this is some kind of impact. But certainly, from what we see in the city at this moment, the anti-aircraft gunfire is not firing in the city at the moment. And there is an increased flow of traffic on the streets for this time, although many of the vehicles we see are government vehicles that are moving around at this time, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: All right, Nic, thanks. And obviously, we'll be back to you -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane, we can now report -- CNN -- that we -- CNN has confirmed that more than 40 cruise missiles were fired from various locations in the Persian Gulf at these "targets of opportunity," as they're called, these two -- at least two selected targets that President Bush spoke about.

I want to bring in the former defense secretary, William Cohen, who served during the Clinton administration, the former defense secretary, also a former senator. When you hear of this initial burst of activity -- of activity, Secretary Cohen, what goes through your mind?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, several things. Number one, if it was, in fact, a decapitation attempt, a target of opportunity, as such, it raises certain questions that Saddam will have to take into account. Number one, was the president acting based upon inside information? In other words, are there sources inside of Baghdad close to Saddam Hussein who are feeding information to our intelligence services or saying things that would lead the president to believe that Saddam and his cohorts are going to be in specific locations. That should be very disconcerting to Saddam, to feel that he may have traitors in his own circle of advisers.

Number two, it also sends a signal that the -- the Iraqi forces are going to be subject to attack from great distances, that they cannot strike back. That will have a very demoralizing impact. And number three, I think that the waiting now for the rolling thunder or the "shock and awe" campaign to begin will also have psychological consequences for those in Baghdad and other urban areas.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, when you hear about this effort to decapitate the Iraqi leadership, that's a euphemism for trying to kill Saddam Hussein. Based on your understanding what the executive order is, what the U.S. standing policy is, is that acceptable in this kind of military circumstance?

COHEN: Oh, I think it is. We are now in a state of war. Saddam Hussein is the commander-in-chief of the forces that are arrayed against the United States and the allied forces. And I think that he is fair game, he and all in the chain of command, as well as all of the soldiers beneath him. So yes, I think that he can and will be targeted, to the extent that we have specific information. So the war has begun, and he is the leader of those forces and is subject to attack.

BLITZER: All right. And Secretary Cohen, we just showed our viewers -- maybe we can show it again -- Pentagon has just released some initial video from this initial burst of strikes against these selected targets in Iraq. We can see it right now. Looks like a cruise missile being launched. As you well know, these cruise missiles are very accurate.

Tell our viewers a little bit about the effectiveness of this cruise missile, if, in fact, they were fired at a selected target, a leadership position, a command-and-control facility in Baghdad. How good are these missiles?

COHEN: These missiles are so precise that they can hit from great distances. They target within just a few meters, so-called "circular area of probability." Within a few meters of the target itself, they can strike and devastate that target. So they're very, very precise. They are programmed to hit a specific target and do so almost without fail. Sometimes there are mishaps. Sometimes they may go astray. And that is always a concern when you're firing into an urban area. But for the most part, they are extraordinarily precise.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for one second. I want to bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, it looked like that videotape that we just saw was a cruise missile being launched from a warship -- it looked like from a destroyer -- that was about to go on its target. But what can you tell us about this video?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that video was released -- this shows one of the differences, Wolf, between now and the Gulf war. That video was taken on one of the U.S. ships that took part in this cruise missile attack. More than 40 missiles were fired. This was taken on a ship on which U.S. reporters were embedded, is the term they keep using. And it was e-mailed -- e-mailed back to the Pentagon and released here a short time ago. So really, just in a short time afterwards, we were able to see the actual launch of some of those 40- plus missiles that were targeted at at least two targets in the Baghdad area.

The Tomahawk missile has a range of about 1,000 miles, and it is satellite-guided. So unlike in the Gulf war, when they had to have terrain features to guide by, they can guide these by satellite. They can come in from all different directions and be timed to hit precisely at the same time at one target. So that's why it's the weapon of choice here. And again, also F-117s took part in this attack, presumably on one of the other targets.

BLITZER: You know, I've heard it often said, and Jamie, I know you have, as well, that one of these cruise missiles could be fired [SOUND DROP-OUT] Let's say the target is Yankee Stadium in New York City in the Bronx. It can be programmed to go up the eastern coast, go into New York City, go into Yankee Stadium and actually go and -- to center field, if, in fact, that is the specific target. It could be that precise. Is that a fair analysis?

MCINTYRE: Absolutely correct, Wolf. And I should have mentioned, by the way -- I neglected to -- that this video we have is actually from -- you were correct -- a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, one of the ships that took part in the strike tonight. So that's the -- that's the actual video that we're showing.

BLITZER: Having been aboard those destroyers when I used to have your job at the Pentagon, I'm familiar with them. That's why it looked like a destroyer. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks very much. Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: Thank you, Wolf. Just if we can, rack that tape one more time. These are the little moments of history. In fact, some day, you will look at this tape and say, This is the moment when the war with Iraq, the second Persian Gulf war, the disarmament of Iraq, as the president referred to it -- this is the moment it began. These are the pictures to prove it.

John King at the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, on this very point, you heard both Wolf and Jamie talking about -- and Christiane -- talking about some of the difficulties in the last Gulf war about launching attacks in Baghdad, some civilian casualties that proved quite controversial. One official here, in providing some information on the dramatic developments today, used this term. He said, This is not his father's military, meaning this president is very confident about the military's capabilities to deliver strikes inside Baghdad while keeping civilian casualties to a minimum.

More -- a bit of the drama of the president's day -- we told you the war-planning meetings are now twice a day, but it was at an extraordinary extra meeting late this afternoon, after the second war- planning meeting, we are told for almost four hours, from 3:40 until 7:20 PM in the Oval Office, the president, the vice president, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -- they came to see the president urgently because, we are told, there was concern in the CIA and at the Pentagon that a target of opportunity might be lost. We are told the president actually gave the go-ahead at 6:30 PM, 50 minutes before that meeting broke up. At 7:20 PM, after the meeting broke up, he stopped to see his speech writer, Mike Gerson, his chief speech writer, to tell Mike Gerson there would be an announcement later tonight. Time to get to work. At that point, Mr. Bush left and went to the residence. He had what we are told is a relaxing dinner with the first lady. At 8:00 o'clock, Andy Card, his chief of staff, came to say the NSA and the CIA had confirmed Saddam Hussein was still in the country, that he had not accepted the president's ultimatum. Then around 9:30, 9:45, Mr. Bush returned to the Oval Office, put the finishing touches on that speech. At 10:15 tonight, in an address to the American people, the president of the United States announcing the war was under way.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.


KING: The president went on to say the United States would use maximum force to achieve its objectives. One senior official I spoke to a short time ago said the best intelligence information at the moment is a much larger-scale operation is still at least 12 hours away, in the word of this official. However, he also said the president, as he did tonight, reserves the right to act more quickly if any information comes to his attention. At this hour, Aaron, as we analyze the early hours of this, Mr. Bush has returned to the residence. We are told he is headed to bed. Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice also gone home. But of course, the White House Situation Room, the nerve center here in the West Wing of the White House, staffed 24 hours a day because of the advances in technology, in touch with every one of those forces, the deployed forces, every one of those vessels positioned around the Persian Gulf -- Aaron?

BROWN: John, in terms of the news, is the lid on now at the White House? Is the -- has the information lid gone down?

KING: Yes, it has. We are told no new announcements from the White House at all tonight, and there are no public events on the president's schedule tomorrow. He does have dinner tomorrow night with a member of this "coalition of the willing," if you will, and if we want to flash back a few days, one of the contested votes on the United Nations Security Council. The president of Cameroon is due to be here tomorrow night to have dinner with the president. We will see how tomorrow unfolds.

BROWN: In so many respects, John, we'll see how tomorrow unfolds. Thank you -- senior White House correspondent John King.

Just a quick point on something John mentioned at the beginning of his reporting there. It is a very different military than the first Gulf war. It is a much smaller force that is in the region, but it is -- it has much smarter, if you will -- much smarter weapons than it had, far more smart bombs, and the smart bombs themselves are much more sophisticated, many satellite, GPS-guided weapons. It allows the military to be far more precise and to operate, it hopes -- certainly, that's the battle plan -- far more successfully with fewer people -- fewer people on the ground, fewer food soldiers and -- and it stands to reason, then, fewer risks of casualties. But as the White House also made clear today, Americans need to prepare themselves for the possibility of casualties as this unfolds. One of the concerns is that there will be a flood of refugees, people trying to get out of Iraq. We have seen some of that in both the north -- particularly in the north, but some in the south, as well. Jane Arraf is in northern Iraq and has seen some of that along the Turkish border -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, we're overlooking the city of Dohuk (ph) behind us, and our location, actually, is -- Dohuk (ph) is one of the biggest cities in northern Iraq. As you mentioned, they've seen a flood of people here, not the refugees they expected. Those potential refugees would have been coming from the rest of -- from the rest of Iraq. These ones actually are Kurds moving into the mountainside that has caused what humanitarian officials say here is a crisis. Two people have already died of exposure.

Now, the city is at the foot of a mountain. The mountain overlooks the -- it looks towards Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city. And there are Kurdish military there. Select groups of American military are known to operate. They're there this morning, apparently. And just a few kilometers away is actually the checkpoint where any potential refugees would come over, as well as surrendering Iraqi soldiers. We were there early this morning, at the checkpoint that divides Iraqi-controlled territory with Kurdish-controlled territory. The border guards are monitoring the border, but they haven't seen anyone cross yet. But officials here have made preparations for thousands of soldiers coming across, as well as tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of refugees -- Aaron?

BROWN: And just give me a sense of how far you are from the border with Turkey, and talk about the concerns at both sides of that border, the Turks and the Kurds, have about that piece of real estate that you're standing on.

ARRAF: That has been very much a concern, as you know, the prospect that Turkey would send Turkish troops into northern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan. That seems to have been defused somewhat. Now, we have been up in the mountains with the Kurdish Peshmerga -- Peshmerga, "those who face death." They're legendary fighters. And in the past two weeks, as soon as Turkey started seriously talking about sending troops into northern Iraq, these fighters were deployed. We saw five battalions of them, about 5,000 fighters, deployed in the mountains directly near Turkey.

Now, the United States has been trying to play a mediating role, as you know, Aaron, trying to make sure that things do remain calm, that there's no conflict here. And the Kurds believe that they have an agreement that Turkish forces will not be deployed. Now, Turkey has said it needs to deploy these people to prevent any humanitarian crisis, to stem a wave of refugees. People here, Kurdish officials, say, thank you very much, they can handle that quite well themselves -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jane, thank you, Jane Arraf, who is in the Kurdish- controlled part of northern Iraq. It is the one part of Iraq that Saddam and his regime has not controlled. It is a very complicated ethnic political situation in that part of the country, that as Jamie indicated, impacts Iraq, impacts Turkey on the other side. It was very much part of why this negotiation with Turkey was so complicated. And even as recently as yesterday, the United States government made clear that it would not look kindly on Turkey if Turkey sent its troops into that area. But both sides, the Kurds and the Turks, have a difficult relationship, and that is one part of why the ultimate occupation and the recreation of Iraq is going to be such a complicated and expensive and likely long-term enterprise for the United States.

Nic Robertson in Baghdad. Nic, what do the people of Baghdad know? What have they heard from either their government or anyone else, to this point?

ROBERTSON: Well, there was a brief broadcast earlier on by Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf. Perhaps the main broadcast or the first broadcast people will have heard here today was a broadcast from a radio station broadcasting a message from President Saddam Hussein's son, Uday Saddam Hussein, saying, God protect the people of the country, God protect our leader.

We are also expecting a news conference within the next -- within the next hour to be given by Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf. We have not been able to hear on Iraqi radio -- on any of the normal Iraqi radio station or radio station frequencies here -- we have not heard any U.S. broadcasts. We have not heard any radio stations here that appear, at this stage, at least, to have been taken over by U.S. broadcasts.

What is happening, or at least, what appears to be happening, a ratcheting up of the pressure on Iraq's leadership here to say that President Saddam Hussein was a "target of opportunity," to put it to the Iraqi people that perhaps their leader is dead. This is something that will put pressure on the leadership, pressure on the leadership here to deny it, pressure to prove it's wrong, pressure to tell the people that President Saddam Hussein is still firmly in control of the country, Aaron.

BROWN: It's about 7:20 in the morning now, on a Thursday morning. Is there any -- I'm not -- Nic, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what you can and cannot see, as opposed to what you can hear. Why don't you tell us what you can see. And is there any sense of normalcy, any sense that the city is coming alive for a Thursday morning?

ROBERTSON: It's certainly not coming alive for a normal Thursday morning. I'm on the 11th floor of a hotel. I'm overlooking the Tigris River (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for several miles east and west of me, at this point. I'm looking across to a government part of the city. I can see the information ministry from where I stand. I can also see the main -- some of the main boulevards in the city. There are occasional vehicles going up and down the roads. The majority of vehicles that we've seen from this location so far, a tiny handful of taxis. Many of them are government vehicles.

No sign of soldiers out on the streets here at this time, but then, no signs of -- no signs of normal life. The stores are closed. There are vehicles parked at the side of the road. The vehicles that came out earlier on, some of them were screeching around the corners, trying to get wherever they were going in a hurry. But the only other vehicles, apart from the government vehicles and a couple of taxis, are a few vehicles belonging to television news agencies. They're marked in bold letters, "TV," to indicate that they're belonging to television news organizations. Those vehicles also driving around the city. Very quiet.

There's no wind at this time. The palm trees that line the river here are hanging limply. The visibility is not typical for this city. The visibility is quite limited at this time, still hazy. It seems some of the dirt kicked up by the storms in the last few days is still in the air. And the skies overhead clearing a little but still mostly cloudy at this time, Aaron.

BROWN: It is -- Nic, thank you. It is -- to look at it and to know, it is as if a terrible thunderstorm came through and passed, and now we are waiting for a much larger typhoon to hit the city of Baghdad and the rest of the country of Iraq. It will come, we -- I think we can be fairly certain, first from the air, more cruise missiles, 40 already launched. But at some point, ground forces will move in, and the bulk of them will come in from Kuwait. They have over the last several days -- units have moved much closer to the border, really kissing up against the border. And they now stand there in the early morning, 7:30 in the morning on a Thursday, waiting for the order to move. Whether that will come today, tomorrow, the next day, we do not know and will not speculate.

But we know Walt Rodgers is there now -- Walt.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Aaron. Another sign that the battle play is unfolding here -- again, the U.S. Army is sitting in the extreme northern edge of the Kuwaiti desert, very close to the Iraqi border. But the sign that the battle plan is unfolding -- on the horizon in that direction about two miles, I can see tanker trucks moving up. These are the support vehicles which will refuel the tanks and the Bradley fighting vehicles when President Bush does give the order for the units to move forward.

Let me share a bit of a charming vignette with you that you might enjoy, Aaron. You, sitting in the CNN studio, and the CNN viewers in the United States and around the world, actually knew about the attack on Baghdad, the attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein before any of the soldiers here in the field knew about it. Everyone at the tip of the spear out there, in their Bradley fighting vehicles -- they're so removed from the big picture, which CNN is reporting, that actually, we here at CNN were reporting to the soldiers in the field what was happening -- that is, the air strike and the cruise missile strikes against selective targets in Baghdad before any of the soldiers know it.

They have a very focused mission out there. That mission is when the orders come to charge, they just fold up the back of those Bradley fighting vehicles, close the hatches on the M1-A1 Abrams tanks and go forward. John King at the White House a short while ago said it could be yet another 12 hours before the command comes for these troops to move forward. That looks very accurate from where we are. We would probably take two to three hours to move even now, and we're the leading edge. We're the cutting edge -- that is, the 7th Cavalry's the cutting edge here. So it'll be at minimum two to three hours before we could roll forward, even if the command came now. And then beyond that -- John King was speculating 12 hours. That looks fairly realistic.

Over the horizon in that direction, back to the south, is the huge 3rd Infantry division, mechanized infantry, with hundreds of tanks, 155-millimeter Palladin (ph) guns. They have yet to be brought up. The 7th Cavalry, the unit with which I've been embedded, is the scouting unit. We would be the first out into Kuwait when -- or excuse me, into Iraq, departing Kuwait. But again, the order has not been given to cross the line of departure. The 7th Cavalry remains in its attack position, which is stationary -- Aaron.

BROWN: Just Walt, as briefly as you can -- when you walked over to these troops, when you walked over to them and told them what we had been reporting, that the strikes had happened, that the war apparently was on, how did they react?

RODGERS: They were sort of dumbfounded, you know, sort of scratched their heads, like, Why didn't somebody tell us? Again, that's not their position to get the overall, the big, strategic picture which you're reporting so well back there. But our position here is very tactical. That is to say, these units, when they go forward, see only a very small tactical picture, an immediate objective. The follow a road map, and the road map for the 7th Cavalry is up to Baghdad. But again, there's no indication -- they had no indication this was coming. And even the officers in this unit were unaware of what was happening before you were reporting it to that big CNN audience -- Aaron.

BROWN: Walt, thank you -- Walt Rodgers in the desert, and we'll be seeing him a lot in the days ahead, we're certain.

Much is now starting to unfold, though perhaps not all of it. Out on the water, the USS Lincoln. Kyra Phillips is one of the embedded reporters out there. We're trying to get the pictures in. You can see the fighter jets. There's some break-up, obviously. These are live pictures, and this is complicated technology.

Kyra, are you able to hear me?


BROWN: Yes, we are able to hear you, barely. Go ahead.

PHILLIPS: OK, Aaron, as you're listening to me, Brian (ph) is on an F-14 Tomcat right now. I'm going to try and get the guys to give you a salute. They just gave me the signal that they are headed off -- off the USS Abraham Lincoln here. I got to tell you, it's been a bit confusing because the plan was for the strike, of course, to start later in the day, and now everything has sort of jumped up at the last minute. As you know, this decapitation strike was attempted earlier today, and now the F-14 pilots are coming out slowly to their decks.

Let me see if I can get him to wave. There we go! We got the pilot to give us a wave. Let's see if I can get the RIO to give us a signal, Aaron, from the back there. They basically gave me a thumbs- up.

BROWN: Well, we -- we...

PHILLIPS: They're watching the...

BROWN: It's hard to see them, but we...

PHILLIPS: There we go! Did you see (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BROWN: There we did. We were able to see it there, and all we can do and say -- and we know we speak for everyone -- is we wish them safe flight and safe return. Kyra, thanks.


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