Foreign Policy

Glimmers of Sanity on Afghanistan

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Buried in a long Washington Post piece on Obama administration Afghanistan War stategizing, both in March when a huge counterinsurgency seemed like a lark worth pursuing and now, a bit of possible good news:

Senior military leaders, including Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Petraeus, who now heads the U.S. Central Command, have indicated their support for McChrystal's request in discussions with administration officials. Biden has taken the opposite view, renewing arguments he made earlier this year for a narrower counterterrorism mission instead of a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign. Others, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have not staked out a firm position.

With the costs now clearer, some officials at the National Security Council and the State Department who voiced support for counterinsurgency in March have started to consider other options. There is increasing interest in Biden's stance, as well as in a modified counterinsurgency effort that would involve sending more military trainers but not more combat forces.

Most recently at Reason on the Afghanistan war, see Terry Michael with the "libertarian Democrat" perspective on why Obama needs to get out of Afghanistan, now.

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  1. How is Biden’s special forces strategy different from the leaner/meaner approach favored by cannibalistic mass murderer of orphans Donald Rumsfeld?

  2. It is not Tim. And Rusfeld was proven wrong by the Iraq surge. Rumsfeld opposed the surge and was fired for it.

    More importantly, Joe Biden is one of the dumbest people in public life. There is no way you would take his word on anything, letalone alone military strategy. I think Petreus and McCrystal have a little more credibility than Biden.

    Yesterday it was Andrew Sullivan. Today it is Joe Biden and “unnamed officials at DOS and the NSC”. Like the State Department has gotten anything right in the last 50 years.

    Iowahawk said it best in the Sully thread yesterday, “the schizophrenic homeless man behind the 7-11 agrees with me sometimes to. But, I don’t advertise the fact on my blog.”

  3. I no longer have any active memory of the specifics of departed Don’s particular plans for Afghanistan, nor are they relevant in the Obama administration. What I’m cheering is not that “Joe Biden agrees with me!” (which he doesn’t) but that a point of view that will prevent doubling down on a hopeless situation with 100,000 plus American troops is, according to the Post, showing SOME signs of life in the administration.

  4. “What I’m cheering is not that “Joe Biden agrees with me!” (which he doesn’t) but that a point of view that will prevent doubling down on a hopeless situation with 100,000 plus American troops is, according to the Post, showing SOME signs of life in the administration.”

    Hopeless? I recall you saying the exact same thing about Iraq is 2006 and being completely wrong. Why are right now but wrong then?

    You maybe right this time Brian. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But, before anyone takes you or Reason seriously on the subject, you owe a mea culpa about how wrong you all were about the surge in Iraq and an explination of why this time is different. Otherwise, how is your opinion anything more than just reflex?

  5. Wrong about the surge?

    You mean saying it would provide a short term suppression of hostile activities, but provide no long term transformation of Iraqi political culture?

    1. Reason said Iraq was hopeless and in a civil war and the surge would create more violence not less. The opposite occured and we are now drawing down from Iraq and will be out of there by 2012. Reason was dead wrong about the surge.

      1. The thing is, it’s likely Iraq will be highly unstable when we leave. In that sense, the surge changed nothing in the long term.

  6. Brian,

    Why should I take your word and opinion over Patreus? Petreus has the benefit of having been right about Iraq. You don’t. And it is difficult to imagine any situation where you would think more troops is the answer. How are you, or the entire reason staff for that matter, anything but a stopped clock? Yeah, you think we should leave Afghanistan, we got it. In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning.

  7. John—“Worked” is not a concept that any two objective observers can agree on, clearly, when it comes to foreign policy goals pursued through war. The numbers collected here: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R40824.pdf
    don’t say “worked” to me.

    They say, “the total monthly number of casualties shrunk a bunch.” Yet they continue at levels I find alarming, and which I imagine people living in Iraq also might find alarming, and see no reason to believe they lay the groundwork for a situation where U.S. troops can LEAVE behind a country that isn’t horribly violent and screwed up.

    And it isn’t clear to me why you think the history of past attempts to permanently suppress the Taliban specifically and in general manage to impose order through foreign occupation on Afghanistan have no bearing, nor does the U.S. history of success in suppressing guerrilla insurgence in Vietnam; if you want to think that for some reason Iraq is the one dispositive bit of history that’s worth considering in wondering how an Afghan troop boost will work, that’s certainly your prerogative. But from my perspective, the Iraq surge didn’t “work” nor would it be the obvious slamdunk historical precedent (differences in terrains, levels of civilian support and ability to hide/retreat both among the populace and in neighboring countries, different breakdowns of tribal and religious differences fueling the violence) that proves that an Afghan surge (to approx Soviet level) would “work” either.

  8. John,
    I really don’t think that it was the surge that won the Iraq war. I think that it was Patraeus’ change of tactics.
    They brought the Sunni on board with fighting the Al Qaeda. They decentralized the fight, and the governing of Iraqis by Iraqis. And pushed harder the rule that Iraqis could own AK 47’s. That every man has the inalienable right to defend himself.

    McChristal seems very competent, and I for one would give the guy a chance. I just hope that within his request for more troops and his plan for victory in Afghanistan is a similar change of tactics/strategy.

    Also, if we are fighting a drug war there… well we all know that a drug war cannot be won.

  9. And more generally John, yes, in a blog that daily reports on the news and incidences of the world as they crawl by us, you are going to see a fair amount of repetition of points, arguments, and general perspectives on the world. Sorry if I’m boring you, as my hero Bono almost once said.

  10. I think the whole thing is really pessimistic and neither strategy, at least in the vacuum of that strategy alone, offers any real hope of resolving the situation in AfPak to our benefit.

    Drop 45,000 more troops over there (and btw, from which units are we going to find these troops, the military is already stretched overly thin) and you’re still chasing ghost and sending ten or so body bags home a week, opt for the over the horizon option and Kabul falls within a year and the Taliban is back banning kites and offing woman for not wearing burkas, and in 10 years we’re chasing our tails after another catastrophic terrorist incident.

    I think McChrystal addresses this somewhat but the solution is really nation building to the point where the average Joe Afghan senses some sort of nationalism on a central government and fights for his own country. Making that happen is a crap shoot. That should be a good time for us for the next 30 years.

    We should really just false flag something to piss the Indians off and let them invade as we leave. (I’m kidding…kind of…)

    1. The Russians got their asses handed to them, so would the Indians. More so, and quicker, and the Afghans would be stronger for it.

      Unless the Indians used nukes or something.

      With the Indians in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis would have to get involved, so would the Arabs.

  11. This is good news? A change of mind, during a time of war, owing completely to political considerations and having nothing to do with strategic ones? We should pull out now? Because that wouldn’t damage our foreign policy credibility at all at a time we are trying to prevent rogue states from going nuclear or hurt the Afghanis at all would it? That wouldn’t be a boon to the individuals who perpetrated 9/11 nor would it help to destabilize Afghanistan’s next door neighbor, you know the one with nuclear fucking weapons? When you are to the fucking left of Code Pink on this issue, it is time to start asking yourself “where the fuck did I go wrong”.

    This is yet another example of the “look how libertarian I am” and “theoretical libertarianism at all costs” syndromes that often affect the discussions on this board. Who cares about the very real and dangerous ramifications of pulling out, if it means we are no longer involved in inherently evil “foreign entanglements”?

    P.S. Calling yourself a “libertarian Democrat” is almost as retarded as asking about the Neo-Nazi chapter of the B’Nai Brith.

    1. There you conservatives go, lining up with Code Pink.

      1. Yeah. Code Pink is all for the war now that Obama is in office. I always told the infamous Joe Boyle that I was looking forward to him taking myside against the peacenik Reason hippies once his side took the Whitehouse.

        1. You’re not very helpful when I’m trying to make fun of this “B” character.

      2. You were trying to make fun of me? Hahahahahahahahahahahahah, you could use some new material.

    2. You dig it, you go!

  12. “Yet they continue at levels I find alarming, and which I imagine people living in Iraq also might find alarming, and see no reason to believe they lay the groundwork for a situation where U.S. troops can LEAVE behind a country that isn’t horribly violent and screwed up.”

    I would completely disagree with that. You just move the goal posts. When the US leaves in 2012, whatever Iraq is, it will be in much better shape than what is was in 2005 and much better than it would have been without the surge. Given that fact, it is pretty hard to argue the surge didn’t work. Further, Reason claimed in 2006 that it would be a complete disaster. You were completely wrong about that. The fact that you still, three years later won’t admit to that, seriously undermines your credibility on Afghanistan.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what happens in Afghanistan or Iraq, neither you nor anyone on the Reason staff will ever admit that the US did anything right. Your default position is that we are losing and the only sollution is to go home and any further actions and all past actions are failures. That is what you are going to say regardless of the facts on the ground. Given that fact, I don’t really understand why you post on the subject anymore or why you expect anyone to take you seriously.

    1. You are right about that. The authors at this site were attacking the surge long after it was obvious it was working, and even went so far as to claim the reports of Gen. Petraeus were propaganda.

      1. That is how I remember it. If I had time today, which I don’t, I have to work for a living, I would look up the old REason posts on the surge. For Doherity to claim that Reason was right about the surge defies credulity.

    2. John by that same standard why do you believe intel about Iran, when they got it so wrong with Iraq?

  13. Further Brian,

    You show your massive historic ignorance in your above post. THe US did supress the insurgency in Vietnam. The Viet COng did not conquer South Vietnam. Guirilla activity ended in south Vietnam by 1972. South Vietnam was conquered by North Vietnam in a very conventional invasion. You really don’t know anything about history if you think that the insurgency in South Vietnam was in anyway a military success.

    1. The Viet Cong, for all intents in purposes ceased to exist even earlier than 1972, because they were pretty much annihilated during the Tet Offensive in 1968.

      1. The correct form here is “all intensive porpoises”. Come on now, get on bored and tow the lion.

        Actually it’s “all intents and purposes” but that’s not towing the lion.

        1. I know it is “and” instead of “in”. I realized it after I hit the submit button.

      2. You may believe that the Viet Cong/NoVietnam army distinction is of vital importance in your belief that Vietnam provides no useful lessons to consider when it comes to Afghanistan, or even that AFGHAN history provides no useful lessons when it comes to the ability to successfully and permanently squash an insurgency; that’s a respectable assumption, though I disagree with it. I would also stress that U.S. defeat/failure in Afghanistan by no means requires any central army conquering of Kabul.

        It may turn out that the Taliban will never be able to act as anything other than a guerrilla insurgency, though I don’t think that’s proven either, but it might be so.

        You may also believe the real lesson of Vietnam is, always keep killing more and harder until the objective is reached. I don’t doubt the U.S.’s ability to murder people overseas in as large numbers as we want.

        Short bursts of blog convo are always underdetermined as to the larger meaning or premises behind discussions, which I think John probably does understand, so here’s why the discussions about whether we “really won” against guerrillas in Vietnam is irrelevant in my eyes: I don’t think it is worth it for the purposes for which the U.S. government exists to do everything it could possibly do to kill enough people in Afghanistan that no forces of any strength still exist that could threaten our preferred central government there.

        I don’t think that it is “worth it” or a victory against the guerrillas–to stick to your desire to count only the guerrilla part of the Vietnam war as relevant–to have 37,000 American soldiers die (the amt that died in Vietnam 1965-68 alone) in the pursuit of breaking the Taliban. Who, either specifically or in the general sense of “forces in Afghanistan willing to fight what’s perceived as foreign occupation” don’t show much signs historically of being easily breakable for long.

        As for the question of “will things be better in the long run” after a war, if the run is long enough and barring planetary collapse, sure. That still doesn’t settle the question of whether the means were worth it; or what the relevant areas would have been like at this future date if the U.S. had NOT chosen to go to war there.

        1. “I don’t think that it is “worth it” or a victory against the guerrillas–to stick to your desire to count only the guerrilla part of the Vietnam war as relevant–to have 37,000 American soldiers die (the amt that died in Vietnam 1965-68 alone) in the pursuit of breaking the Taliban.”

          Why in the world are you discussing Vietnam casualty counts for the years 1965-1968 and relating it to the Viet Cong as if there was no involvement from the North Vietnamese Army? The NVA was involved in the conflict from the late fifties until the very end; by 1965 full divisions were participating in battles on South Vietnamese soil. Bringing up those casualty counts and then mentioning the Taliban as if there is some meaningful comparison is absolutely silly. It would be a valid comparison if we were fighting the Taliban and the Iranian Army whilst in Afghanistan, but we aren’t therefore such a comparison is total and complete bullshit. Your statement to the effect that those 37,000 casualties represent figures from combat with the guerilla element of the Viet Cong only is flat-out wrong.

          “You may believe that the Viet Cong/NoVietnam army distinction is of vital importance in your belief that Vietnam provides no useful lessons to consider when it comes to Afghanistan, or even that AFGHAN history provides no useful lessons when it comes to the ability to successfully and permanently squash an insurgency; that’s a respectable assumption, though I disagree with it”

          Well of course you do, because that would involve accepting the fact that the United States destroyed the non-regular Viet Cong, an insurgent group like the Taliban (whaddya know), effectively eliminating them as a fighting force and rendering them a non-player for the rest of the Vietnam War. Such an admission would make it difficult to use the Viet Cong in an argument about how the analogous Taliban is some intractable force that will cause countless casualties.

          Seriously, why would anyone at all think there is a difference between a highly-organized, well-equipped fighting force with modern equipment provided to them by multiple Communist countries for whom the North Vietnamese were a proxy and a group of guerillas (connected to the NVA through a tenuous command structure) that the United States annihilated a full five years before our involvement in that war ended? Furthermore, why would anyone object at all to someone elininating the distinction between a group of “insurgents” that were an army in name only to a regular, professional army and then using our experiences with that army to arrive at some bogus historical corollary?

          “Who, either specifically or in the general sense of ‘forces in Afghanistan willing to fight what’s perceived as foreign occupation’ don’t show much signs historically of being easily breakable for long.”

          But of course,the old reliable Soviet comparison. Which is of course valid because this time around we are giving the Taliban advanced weaponry and billions of dollars to use to fight against our own troops. And of course, the population is completely behind the Taliban this time.

  14. I always appreciate your comments, John, and I wasn’t around for the Surge debate, but I’ve never understood how you’ve built up this image of Reason — which in 2002-2003 gave full voice to the Young-Freund-Young-Lindsay-et al argument for invading Iraq — as a one-note opponent of war in all its forms. It is true that Reason also gave a forum to those of us who predicted that invading Iraq would bankrupt the United States, replace one tractable dictator with a million intractacble dictators, and strengthen Iran. You may recognize that prediction as the one that actually happened.

    1. Tim,

      I was on here all the time in 2006 and Reason and all of its staff, sans Young, were convinced the surge was a terrible idea and would result in disaster. That is clearly not what happened.

      Iraq is not Afghanistan. It may be that a surge is not a good idea in Afghanistan. But, I think Reason would be a lot more credible in their opposition to a surge in Afghanistan if they would admit the successes of the surge in Iraq and that they were wrong about it and then explain why things are different this time. Without doing that, you just sound like a broken clock.

    2. There may have been those arguing for Iraq in 2002-03, but when the discussion of the surge strategy rolled around, I don’t recall one author on this site supporting it. Furthermore, those such as Steven Chapman, even went so far as to mock the generals and call their assessments of improvements, which were obviously right, propoganda.

      1. There shouldn’t be a comma after Steven Chapman in the above post.

    3. Reason — which in 2002-2003 gave full voice to the Young-Freund-Young-Lindsay-et al argument for invading Iraq

      I did not know that Lindsay Lohan was in favor of the Iraq war. And that she wrote about it?

      I do remember that Reason is obsessed with her though.

      1. As for my actual thoughts on the surge and its success and the meaning of that, at greater than blog post length, see this by me from Oct 2007 which I think still pretty much holds up:
        https://reason.com/archives/200…..ou-want-it

  15. When the US leaves in 2012

    John,

    If you think the United States is leaving Iraq in the next 20 years, you are dreaming.

    1. Maybe if the US leaves Iraq, we can also leave Germany, Spain, S. Korea, Japan, England, Israel, and some other places too.

      Actually no reason to leave Spain, it is quite a nice place, and they like us there.

      1. BTW, if we do leave all those places, then maybe we won’t be “stretched too thin” when going to war with places that we need to.

        You know like 120 k troops in two countries won’t be “stretched too thin” when we have nearly 3 million.

        1. It isn’t simply a matter of numbers when it comes to “stretching”. There are numerous indicators that the military is having to perpetually lower its standards to merely fill ranks:

          – Promoting too fast
          – Promoting unqualified/unvetted Soldiers
          – Waiving/Delyaing mandatory schools for promotions (see NCOES reqs for SGT and SSG and OES reqs for CPT and MAJ)
          – Constant upward movement on initial bonuses and re-enlistment bonuses
          – An unprecedented officer bonus for senior CPTs
          – Lowering of educational/ASVAB standards for enlistees

          I mean, the list goes on. I’ve been keeping track.

          1. lower standards or raise pay. it is called the free market

            1. again, that doesn’t speak to “stretching thin”.

              1. I am not sure what you mean by that.
                You could (and should) cut defense spending and manpower by half and still do fine in Afghanistan and Iraq.

                I mean, I would cut it in half, but only after I got rid of all the other social programs. When government is finally down to is constitutional limitations, then cut the military. Otherwise, you would be making a cut from somewhere some what useful, and putting it to somewhere counter productive.

    2. Our numbers will be below 20,000 and that will be counting contractors and DOS people and things like that. We are ending our combat presense in Iraq in 2012. They don’t want us there anymore and BO will want to take credit for ending it during the 2012 election.

      1. Like I said, you’re totally dreaming. Al-Asad, Balad, Tallil, VBC/Biap, A-Q, the Green zone/Embassy Complex: these are all permanent bases designed to ensure a significant United States presence for many, many years. The number won’t fall below 50,000 for a good many years.

  16. B = a dumber Sean Hannity.

    1. Hahahahahahahahahaha, thanks for the comparison douchebag, but I can think for myself. And I have gotten into arguments with you before, and if I remember correctly, you have the intellectual candle power of Alec Baldwin. And way to address what I wrote instead of just insulting me, genius.

      Also, I have never watched a single episode of his show, nor have I ever listened to him on the radio.

      1. I don’t “argue” with you, and don’t believe I have. Your schtick of angry modern GOPer doesn’t amuse anyone but yourself.

        1. Not angry, or a modern GOPer. I use HAVE exchanged posts with you before. Maybe it can be considered arguing, maybe it can’t. Of course, you probably wouldn’t remember it because your MO is to insult someone without answering what I have written. Christ, you are so fucking smug, you make joe seem positively humble.

          1. And the word use shouldn’t be in that second sentence.

  17. I wonder what the domestic reaction would be to a Presidential candidate who pledged to bring all our troops home from Europe, South Korea, and anyplace else that is capable of defending itself.

    I believe it would be positive, but I’m a libertarian, so I obviously have no feel at all for how, or even whether, the average voter “thinks”.

    1. One of us should run and try it out.

    2. I guess you don’t count Ron Paul, since he was just a primary candidate and didn’t win the nomination?

  18. I don’t understand how anyone can take Biden seriously in terms of military strategy. He was the one pre-Iraq surge calling for a “partition” of the country in to ethnic states.

    Somehow this idiot thought that since we were having problems keeping the country from falling in to civil war, we should go ahead and create actual physical divisions among the Iraqi people, as if this would somehow solve anything.

    Biden should be fixed with a mute button.

    1. His idea has merit. Do you really think the Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis will all hug and sing around the campfire once we are gone?

      1. Merit? Really? How are you going to move all the Sunnis who live in the south to “sunni controlled” areas? Or Shiites in the north?

        Ask them nicely?

        Do you really think the Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis will all hug and sing around the campfire once we are gone?

        If we tried to uproot entire communities in the name of “ethnically pure” partitions it would make the current divisions unfathomably worse. Thank god we haven’t listened to Biden yet.

        Yet.

        1. His idea is no better, and no worse, than any other idea about what to do in Iraq. Every choice leads to a clusterfuck. Biden was at least thinking outside the box.

          1. Biden was at least thinking outside the box.

            I don’t care if he was thinking outside the solar system, it was an appallingly stupid idea and it terrifies me that he is now in a position of such influence.

            His idea was most CERTAINLY worse than the surge, which has proven effective and achieved the desired results of getting Iraq to progress forward peacefully.

            Think about his idea again. Do you really think if we had uprooted communities throughout Iraq in an effort to “ethnically cleanse” them in to separate states this would have improved things on the ground?

            Seriously?

            1. Can’t believe I’m defending Biden, but you can’t lay judgment on one strategy over another when one has not been tried and the other has not been completed.

  19. Actually, I think John is right about the troop levels in Iraq.

    I think a lot of libertarians just want to think Obama isn’t going to stick to his timetable, because it would be nice to say “same as the old boss”.

    So far, however, he hasn’t seized any of the ample opportunities to delay troop withdrawal, such as the pull-back from cities in June.

  20. Hazel – No, just no. Americans have forgotten about Iraq, largely because casualty numbers have gone in the toilet. If withdrawal starts adding to Iraq turbulence and said turbulence starts making headlines, the GOP could hammer the President as a “cut and runner”. Right now, Iraq isn’t costing him anything politically. We’re staying put.

    1. It isn’t costing him anything politically, but he’s still sticking to the timetable announced last spring.

      Fact: US troops withdrew from cities June 30. This despite ample opporunities for Obama to have delayed doing so. Moreover, despite the spate of bombings in August, Obama did not alter the time table or push US troops back into the cities. He could EASILY have afforded to do so politically, but didn’t.

  21. I wonder what the domestic reaction would be to a Presidential candidate who pledged to bring all our troops home from Europe, South Korea, and anyplace else that is capable of defending itself.

    That was essentially the defense policy plank of the 1980 Ed Clark (and basically every LP presidential campaign before and since).

    Ed Clark got the highest vote toal ever for a LP candidate. Unfortunately his ennunciated gradualism did not sit well with the radical wing and by 1984 the whole Clark wing had pretty much left the party.

  22. I think a lot of libertarians just want to think Obama isn’t going to stick to his timetable, because it would be nice to say “same as the old boss”.

    Seeing as the timetable was set by Bush before he left office, sticking to it is “same as the old boss”, Hazel.

    1. Actually it is slightly accelerated from Bush’s timetable. But the point being that everyone here is saying we’re going to be in Iraq perpetually, but it doesn’t appear that way to me. To me it looks like Obama is sticking to his accelerated schedule, despite plenty of opportunity to delay it if he wanted to.

  23. Saying the surge saved Iraq is like saying the guy who ran a pedestrian over and then took him to the hospital — so the pedestrian’s legs could be amputated to prevent gangrene from spreading — saved that pedestrian. The question is not, will Iraq be better off in 2012 than it was in 2005, but rather, will it be better off than it was in 2002. And note that all the pro-war dead-enders are avoiding that question like a fat girl who just ate a pound of garlic.

  24. Well SAT,

    That kind of depends who you ask doesn’t it?

    Any time past the invasion was better than before for the Kurds.

    For most Shia, after the Surge was probably better than 2002 and before.

    Also, depending on who you ask will be “is Europe better than Iraq was prior to 2002?”

    Of course even if we hadn’t invaded Iraq in 2009 would be different than Iraq in 2002, so is it better?

    And are the rest of us better off having invaded? I think so.

    1. The Kurds had been essentially autonomous under Operation Northern Watch for several years before the invasion, so their status really isn’t changed much. However:

      The tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians aren’t better off.

      The thousands of dead and severely injured American and other coalition troops aren’t better off.

      The American taxpayers who are going to be paying trillions of dollars in interest on the war debt for decades to come aren’t better off.

      The thousands of Iraqis who only survived the sectarian violence of 2005-06 by fleeing their homes in ethnically mixed areas for other countries or more homogeneous areas aren’t better off.

      To be honest, it’s hard to figure out any party that is better off. The Bushes no longer have to be embarrassed that Hussein was still in power after his adversary Poppy Bush was drummed out of office. Blackwater and defense contractors made out like bandits. Al-Qaeda benefitted from the propaganda tool the US occupation of a Muslim country offered, and the terrorist battle proving ground Iraq provided and continues to provide. Also our diversion of troops from Tora Bora to the Iraqi invasion at that crucial moment probably saved bin Laden from being captured.

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