Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

Afghanistan at the Warsaw Summit: Looking for sustained support (with an 11 July 2016 update)

Jelena Bjelica Kate Clark Martine van Bijlert Sudhansu Verma 16 min

On 8 July 2016, in Warsaw, NATO begins a two-day heads of state summit for its member countries. Afghanistan is the first item on the agenda on day two. From an Afghan point of view this is an important event, the means by which Kabul secures funding for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and troop commitments for NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. However, for NATO, Afghanistan is no longer at the top of the agenda; there are too many other security problems facing the alliance. Ahead of the summit, AAN answers some of the key questions for Afghanistan (with an 11 July 2016 update on the results).  

A Resolute Support team works with ‪officers from the ‪Afghan interior and defence ministries during a simulation exercise looking at the effect of different decisions on the effectiveness and affordability of ​the ANSF in the future. NATO’s Warsaw summit will also be considering funding of ANSF, as well as the deployment of international forces, 8-9 July 2016. (Photo: NATO - Resolute Support Mission, DATE: May 19, 2016)A Resolute Support team works with ‪officers from the ‪Afghan interior and defence ministries during a simulation exercise looking at the effect of different decisions on the effectiveness and affordability of ​the ANSF in the future. NATO’s Warsaw summit will also be considering funding of ANSF, as well as the deployment of international forces, 8-9 July 2016. (Photo: NATO - Resolute Support Mission, DATE: May 19, 2016)

Update (after the Warsaw summit, in italics): 

At their 2016 summit, NATO member-states decided that Resolute Support Mission led by the alliance will continue beyond its already once extended target date at the end of 2016 and will keep up its funding for the Afghan security forces until 2020 at least (see the summit’s final statement here). An exact withdrawal date has not been set, though. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s stated (quoted here) that “There’s no reason to speculate exactly on how long it [the mission] will continue.“

Tropps levels are supposed to remain the same; currently, according to official NATO figures for July 2016, there are 12,930 foreign troops from 39 countries in Afghanistan. Most of them – 7006 – are from the United States.

The US will reportedly continue to provide the bulk of the troops, although proportionally fewer than before. The US had planned to reduce its current deployment from 9,800 {this includes troops not formally under RS but under the parallel anti-terrorism mission Freedom’s Sentinel) to 5,500 by the end of the year, but just ahead of the summit, President Obama announced a slowdown of the drawdown. According to a White House statement, the US will now keep altogether 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. (A recent report by the AP shows how difficult it is to come to exact US troops numbers in Afghanistan, here.) This means the other contributing nations will have to deploy an extra 1400 troops between them. The exact size of the mission is to be determined in the autumn, Stoltenberg stated.

NATO has also agreed to continue spending 4.5 billion dollars annually for  Afghanistan’s armed forces through to 2020. This includes 3.5 billion dollars from the US and one billion from other allies. (The NATO Secretary General said they had “nearly” gathered the non-US billion for next year.) Afghanistan is also supposed to contribute half a billion dollars annually (it is not clear whether it already has done so), and NATO still insists – rather unrealistically, in its final Warsaw statement – that the country takes full “financial responsibility” for its forces by 2024, the end of the so-called ‘transformation period.’.

NATO’s message was grammatically dubious, but politically clear: “NATO stands resolute towards a secure and stable Afghanistan.”


  1. What is the background to the NATO summit and how important is it for Afghanistan?

Since 1949, the founding year of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), there have been 26 NATO summits (for details see here) where heads of state of members and partners have met to discuss the various problems facing the alliance. Afghanistan has featured heavily on the NATO agenda over the last decade or so, with its United Nations-mandated and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – a mission that ended in December 2014 and was replaced by Resolute Support, which has a mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF.

At this summit in Warsaw, there will again be a session specifically dedicated to Afghanistan. The meeting is likely to result in a carefully-worded declaration that builds on agreements made at previous summits, in particular those in Lisbon (2010), Chicago (2012) and Newport (2014) and that marked changes in the relationship between Afghanistan and its military supporters.

In Lisbon, on 20 November 2010, the nations that contributed troops to ISAF issued a declaration (Lisbon Declaration on Afghanistan) announcing what they called ‘Afghanistan’s Transition’ – the gradual withdrawal of foreign forces and their replacement by Afghan ones. This transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership was to begin in early 2011 “following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision” and aimed to have the ANSF “lead and conduct security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.” (See also comments by AAN’s Thomas Ruttig ahead of the Lisbon summit: here. )

At the same summit, NATO and the Afghan government signed a Declaration of Enduring Partnership in which NATO reaffirmed its commitment to a stable Afghanistan and declared its intention to provide “sustained practical support to Afghan security institutions.” The Afghan government in turn reaffirmed its commitment to carry out its security, governance and development responsibilities, as agreed during the 2010 London and Kabul conferences, to be an enduring NATO partner and to seek to ‘forward regional cooperation’. (1)

Two years later, on 21 May 2012 at the Chicago summit, the ISAF troop-contributing countries detailed in the Chicago Declaration on Afghanistan the roadmap for the security transition and reiterated their commitment to support the Afghan government’s security forces beyond the transition and through what was called ‘the Transformation Decade’, that is, beyond ISAF’s withdrawal (2014 to 2024):

The completion of transition, however, will not mean the end of the International Community’s commitment to Afghanistan’s stability and development. Afghanistan and NATO reaffirm their commitment to further develop the NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership signed at Lisbon in 2010 in all its dimensions, up to 2014 and beyond, including through joint programmes to build capacity such as the Building Integrity Initiative. In this context, NATO and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will now deepen their consultations towards shaping the Enduring Partnership.

The declaration provided the contours for the future training and advice mission, gave the annual cost for the Afghanistan security forces an estimated figure (4.1 billion US dollars) and set parameters for the phasing out of support: 

As transition of security responsibility is completed at the end of 2014, NATO will have made the shift from a combat mission to a new training, advising and assistance mission, which will be of a different nature to the current ISAF mission. (…)

The preliminary model for a future total ANSF size, defined by the International Community and the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, envisages a force of 228,500 with an estimated annual budget of US$4.1 billion, and will be reviewed regularly against the developing security environment. (…)  

As the Afghan economy and the revenues of the Afghan government grow, Afghanistan’s yearly share will increase progressively from at least US$500m in 2015, with the aim that it can assume, no later than 2024, full financial responsibility for its own security forces. In the light of this, during the Transformation Decade, we expect international donors will reduce their financial contributions commensurate with the assumption by the Afghan government of increasing financial responsibility.  

During the most recent NATO summit in Newport, Wales (United Kingdom), on 4 and 5 September 2014, the Wales Summit Declaration on Afghanistan reaffirmed and laid out NATO’s short, medium and long term commitment to Afghanistan: the Resolute Support mission, NATO’s contribution to fund the ANSF, and NATO and Afghanistan’s long-term ‘Enduring Partnership’. (2)

In Warsaw (see NATO documents here and here), Afghanistan will be seeking a reaffirmation of the commitment to support its security forces, as it will not be able to pay for them by itself in any foreseeable future. As during similar conferences in the past, the Afghan government will need to convince contributing countries that a stable Afghanistan continues to be both important and feasible, and that the country continues to be worth the investment.

High-level international conferences have, for this reason, often been used to nudge the Afghan government to act on issues that have long been lagging. The Afghans, as well the governments that support them – who are faced with the difficult task of defending their continued support to a critical public – will probably use the summit to showcase apparent progress and show an optimistic face. There will probably be exhortations that Afghanistan needs to do more in the field of anti-corruption (while praising the government for the – very – recent establishment of an Anti-Corruption Justice Task Force), electoral reform and addressing the deep-seated issues facing the command and control of its security forces. However, there are no indications that this will lead into serious discussions of conditionality.

  1. How prominent will Afghanistan feature? Is there a chance it might be overshadowed by other events?

Afghanistan is at the summit based on its status as the receiver of NATO-led troops and as an Enduring Partner of NATO. Moreover, many member states and partners continue to be heavily involved in the country. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg specifically mentioned Afghanistan in his announcement of the summit on 22 May 2015:

In Warsaw, we will chart the course for the Alliance’s adaptation to the new security environment so that NATO remains ready to defend all Allies against any threat from any direction. We will build on our valuable work with partner nations and organisations to keep our neighbourhood stable. We will stress our long-term commitment to Afghanistan through the Enduring Partnership. And we will further strengthen the bond between Europe and North America on which our Alliance is founded.

On the eve of the NATO ministerial meeting on 14 June 2016, he further stated that:

“Projecting stability is how NATO can work with partners (…) This has to be done in a tailored way in different countries, that’s exactly actually what we do in Afghanistan now. We have ended our combat mission there but we do train, assist and advise, we help the Afghan National Security Forces fight extremism, terrorism themselves.”

At the same time, in the midst of a changing world, Afghanistan sees itself facing the challenge of keeping itself on the agenda. Although for now Afghanistan will probably get what it needs – a restatement, possibly conditional, of NATO’s continuing support – it is likely that the main discussions will focus elsewhere. Other pressing topics include the conflict in Ukraine and relations with Russia, the conflicts in the Middle East, the role of nuclear weapons, missile defence and cyber-security, NATO’s partnership policy and the ‘burden sharing debate’. (3)

  1. What will be discussed in the session on Afghanistan?

The session dedicated to Afghanistan will be attended by NATO members, contributing partners to the Resolute Support Mission and Afghan government officials, including President Ashraf Ghani. During this session, NATO member states are likely to review their financial support for the Afghan security forces, with NATO officials aiming to secure financial commitments until 2020 (as the previous round of pledges expires in 2017). NATO officials will seek to convince member states to determine their support to the Afghan security forces based on the ANSF’s needs and the security conditions on the ground, rather than seeking to trim their pledges according to budget constraints. As of February 2016, the capacity of the Afghan security forces, according to figures provided by Resolute Support, includes “approximately 173,000 soldiers, airmen, and Ministry of Defence (MoD) civilians serving in the Army; approximately 154,000 policemen and civilians serving in the Ministry of Interior (MoI); and more than 28,000 MoI Afghan Local Police (ALP) securing villages across Afghanistan” (for details see here). NATO officials will aim to keep these forces at their current level.

The estimated costs, however, have increased – far beyond inflation – and now stand at approximately five billion US dollars per year. This will be a hard sell, given the changing financial priorities in many NATO member states and the stretch on NATO’s resources, including in the east and south of Europe’s borders due to new migration.

The outcome of Afghanistan’s session will greatly depend on the United States’ commitment to maintain its troop levels and financial support. The original Us plan was to reduce US troops in Afghanistan from 9,800 to 5,500 this year. If President Obama goes ahead with this (and there are indications he may not), NATO officials would need to examine what they could still do and what they would have to drop – for example, with regard to the number of ‘training hubs’ NATO maintains. Some senior US politicials including senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham visiting Kabul for American Independence Day on 4 July 2016, have urged Obama not to reduce the numbers, warning that Afghanistan could follow the fate of Iraq if he does, ““If we go to 5,500 this place will fall apart quickly, quicker than Iraq,” said Graham. “If we keep 9,800 there is a decent chance we can succeed.” If NATO allies show themselves ready to maintain their troop levels, this may encourage the US to keep its numbers up. They are “a logical consideration in our decision-making,” one US official told Reuters. It seems unlikely the US president will come out with any definite decisions ahead or during the summit. Apart from anything else, new overall NATO and US commander in Afghanistan, John Nicholson, General John Nicholson, who conducted a comprehensive security review during his first 90 days on the job (not yet public) has yet to make recommendations to the White House.

The summit’s session is also likely to discuss how to ‘ensure the success’ of Operation Resolute Support in the face of a deteriorating security environment in Afghanistan, what contingency plans can be made to counter the rise of Islamic extremist groups with links to Middle East in Afghanistan (Daesh) and the possibilities for more direct assistance to Afghan security institutions and forces. The resumption of a (mandated) combat role by NATO forces is highly unlikely. The US does have this role, based on its own, separate, bilateral accord with Kabul (for details of both NATO and US agreements, see AAN reporting here).

  1. Has Afghanistan prepared any documents for the NATO summit?

The Afghan government has prepared a National Security Strategy and a National Security Policy, which it apparently intends to present at the summit.

Afghanistan is supposed to have four major national security documents, that together make up the country’s five-year security planning framework: the National Threat Assessment, the National Security Policy, the National Security Strategy, and an Afghan National Campaign Plan.

The first three documents form the basis of the Ministry of Defence’s National Military Strategy and Ministry of Interior’s Strategy. These, in turn, outline the respective ministry strategies and form the basis for subordinate plans for the deployment of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (and other branches of the Ministry of Interior).

According to the revamped mandate of the National Security Council in 2010, the NSC was tasked with “produc[ing] draft papers on National Security Policy and National Security Strategy, National Threat Assessments and other topics of cross-government security interest.” At the London Conference, held on 28 January 2010, it was agreed that the Afghan government would established its first National Security Policy and present it at the Kabul conference in July 2010, a couple of months before the NATO Lisbon summit. The Afghan government, at the time, did not present the promised policy.

An official at the National Security Council told AAN that the three basic documents – threats assessment, national security policy and national security strategy – were drafted recently and approved by President Ghani. These are both micro and macro level assessments of the domestic, regional and international security environments and threat levels, and their implications for Afghanistan. The documents aim to represent a change in how the government deals with security-related issues, the official said, in a “structured”, rather than an “ad hoc” manner. They will, supposedly, be presented at the summit.

  1. What can Afghanistan realistically expect from the NATO summit? 

It is most likely that the Warsaw NATO summit will follow the three-pronged approach – short, medium and long term commitment – of the last summit held in 2014 in Wales (see here) where NATO’s foreign ministers already agreed to extend NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan beyond 2016. In Warsaw, the heads of states and partners are thus expected to reiterate their support and long-term commitment to Afghanistan – which was already announced by NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg – and to provide detail on what this will entail for the NATO-led training, advice and assistance to Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, beyond 2016. So far NATO has indicated it will have a “regional flexible approach” with regard to the continued mission, indicating it now intends to keep bases open beyond Kabul and Bagram.

AAN has reported previously (see here, here and here) on the fudging between NATO’s train, advise and assist Resolute Support mission and the US’s separate ‘can be combat’, anti-terrorist Freedom’s Sentinel Mission. It had become clear that the US had stretched the notion of ‘self defence’ beyond its limits, using it as a rationale for offensive air strikes under the Resolute Support Mission banner and other operations against the Taleban – not just to protect US forces on the ground, but also Afghan allies. This was risky because restrictions on strikes aimed at saving US troops’ lives are far fewer than for an offensive attack, increasing the likelihood, therefore, of civilian casualties. It is also hardly what anyone expected from a mission that, according to Obama himself, was to be a non-combat one. The gravity of this muddling of the missions became clear in the air strike on the MSF hospital in Kunduz in October 2015 when ‘self defence’ was used to justify an offensive strike against a target which US troops were not near by too and did not even have line of sight on. The result of this (and other errors and technical failures) was a bombed hospital.

Obama has now decided to officially expand the parameters of the mission. From early June 2016 onwards, the US commander can order strikes to protect Afghan forces under imminent danger of being overrun by the Taleban; the strikes can be used, not just against al Qaeda and its associates, but also against the Taleban and; US forces can now also work on the ground with Afghan regular forces and not just Afghan special forces (see here ).

All of these issues affect US forces only, as far as we know. Other countries have taken a much stricter view of what train, advise, assist means and believe it excludes combat.

On funding, NATO’s member and partner countries are expected to make, or reiterate pledges for the sustained financial support of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. Reuters recently quoted a US military commander, who said Washington is currently asking its military allies in Afghanistan “to maintain funding for Afghan forces at a cost of nearly 5 billion US dollars a year until at least 2020.” 

  1. How has the Warsaw summit featured in Afghan media and the general political discourse?

Reporting on the upcoming summit has allowed various media and commentators to bring in other related or unrelated topics, which they feel should be on the agenda.

Several media outlets, for example, have been reporting criticism of the government for its failure to act decisively against corruption. Tolo News reported on 19 June 2016 that, according to corruption monitoring groups, “the Afghan government’s counter-corruption policies will dominate the agenda at the upcoming NATO heads-of-state summit in Warsaw… the Kabul government will be expected to outline more inclusive anti-graft measures. This will be a condition for ensuring continued international financial and military aid for Afghanistan.” Earlier, on 8 June 2016, Tolo News also quoted criticism by the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network (AACN) against the government’s “ineffective” and “non-existent” anti-corruption policy. It then quoted the response of a presidential spokesperson who said that “If Kabul makes achievements in fighting corruption before the Warsaw Summit, which is scheduled for 8 July, this will remove the stain of corruption from the image of Afghanistan and it will convince the international community to continue assisting Afghanistan.” And indeed, in the following weeks, the government announced and then inaugurated a specialised Anti-Corruption Justice Centre. Also reported were dismissals, investigations and prosecutions of government officials (see for instance here).

Then there are Afghan hopes from the summit. Tolo News has also reported on specific requests that Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defence hopes to make to NATO:

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Tuesday called on President Ashraf Ghani to lobby for more state-of-the-art weapons. It wants to boost the Afghan Air Force and strengthen the country’s military intelligence and investigation sectors. This was part of the list of requirements sent to President Ashraf Ghani by the MoD. He is expected to present the list to the Warsaw heads-of-state summit.” Gen Zaheer, the commander of training and education of the national army, in an interview on national television on 24 June 2016, called on the international community to honour its promises to educate, train and equip the Afghan armed forces. He particularly asked for “radars, air to surface missiles, fighter jets, spy planes, bombers and transport planes.”

The media also reported that concerns that weaknesses in ANSF leadership and logistics and the lack of internal cohesion could, however, endanger continued international support:

A number of military analysts have said that poor military leadership will come under the spotlight at the upcoming NATO Warsaw Summit. They concurred that the Afghan government had to tackle the matter seriously in order to address NATO concerns. (…) NATO is expected to pledge $15 billion to the ANSF until 2020 during the Warsaw Summit. But there are fears that poor Afghan military leadership will undermine the interests of international community and could influence its willingness to continue financial aid to Afghanistan. (Tolo News)

On the eve Warsaw summit, military experts have warned that the lack of cohesion between the various sections of Afghanistan’s security establishment required an effective intervention. At this stage the government will be vulnerable to international criticism at the summit. (Tolo News)

The government has also sought to leverage the Warsaw summit in its attempt to get parliament to pass a legislative decree linked to the parliamentary elections (see here and here for more details). State-owned newspaper Anis, for example, wrote on 14 June 2016 in an editorial:

The MPs who (…) rejected the decree should know that the president of the country is decisive and will try to bring reforms in the electoral system in any way possible (…) bringing reforms in the electoral system as one of its priorities and will try to find a solution to this problem before the Warsaw summit. (…) The government of Afghanistan should get the international community’s support by presenting its accomplishments on the pledges made in the coming summit. But, by rejecting the second legislative decree of the president, it is now unknown what the future fate of the parliament will be.

Even the Taleban have commented on the NATO summit. An article, headlined

“Warsaw Summit should not repeat past mistakes” published on the Taleban Voice of Jihad website on 25 June, said:

It is not the first NATO conference regarding Afghanistan. Since the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, America and its allies have held several conferences about Afghanistan. … Since then, instead of resolving the issue, every conference on Afghanistan including the first Bonn Conference has further complicated the Afghan issue. The main reason is that America and its allies are intent on trying to deprive the Afghan Muslim nation from their basic and legitimate rights like independence of the country and establishment of an Islamic system. They want to solve this issue on the basis of their own will and by resorting to the use of force and resource. (…)

NATO should come out from the circle of the use of force and stratagem and ponder over their mistakes. If they want to solve the issue of Afghanistan, they should disband the policy of use of force and occupation. Rather, they should realise ground realities if they ever want the real solution of the issue and accept the legitimate demands of our nation.

Reporting by Jelena Bjelica, Martine van Bijlert, Sudhanshu Verma and Kate Clark.



(1) The relevant sections in the Declaration of Enduring Partnership are:

NATO re-affirms its long-term commitment to a sovereign, independent, democratic, secure and stable Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists and terrorism, and to a better future for the Afghan people. In pursuit of that goal, and recognising Afghanistan as an important NATO partner, NATO intends to provide sustained practical support to Afghan security institutions aimed at: 

  • sustaining and improving their capacity and capability to counter threats to the security, stability and integrity of Afghanistan effectively, and contributing to regional security; and
  • doing so with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and leadership, in a manner consistent with and supportive of the Afghan constitution and international law and recognising the sacrifices and the ongoing endeavours of the Afghan people for achieving peace.

 The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan reaffirms its commitment to:

  • actively carry out its security, governance and development responsibilities in a manner consistent with the commitments made at the London Conference of January 2010 and the Kabul Conference of July 2010 such as combating terrorism, strengthening the economy, addressing corruption, regional security and economic co-operation and respect for human rights, in particular the rights of women;
  • be an enduring partner to NATO and provide NATO with the necessary assistance to carry out its partnership activities within the framework of this declaration; and recognise the importance and relevance of broader regionally-owned co-operation, coordination and confidence building between Afghanistan and its regional partners, as exemplified in the Istanbul Statement.

(2) The full three-pronged commitment in the 2014 Wales Declaration on Afghanistan reads:

 In the short term, the Resolute Support Mission. As decided at the Chicago Summit in 2012, at the invitation of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and in the context of the broader international effort to help Afghanistan, NATO Allies and partner nations stand ready to continue to train, advise and assist the ANSF after 2014. This will be done through a new, non-combat mission with a sound legal basis. The mission’s establishment is contingent on the signing of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement. The Resolute Support Mission should ideally, in consultation with the Government of Afghanistan, be supported by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

In the medium term, our contribution to the financial sustainment of the ANSF. At Chicago, NATO allies and ISAF partners decided to provide support to the ANSF, as appropriate, through the Transformation Decade, on the understanding that the Afghan Government will make an increasing financial contribution to this endeavour. Today, nations renewed their financial commitments to support the sustainment of the ANSF, including to the end of 2017. We also urge the wider international community to remain engaged in the financial sustainment of the ANSF. We will maintain and strengthen the transparent, accountable and cost-effective funding mechanisms we have established since Chicago, including the Oversight and Coordination Body, which will ensure donors can confidently commit this support. Realising the full promise of the pledges made at Chicago on the financial sustainment of the ANSF, which we have reaffirmed today, will require transparency, accountability, and cost-effectiveness of the relevant international funding mechanisms. We encourage the Afghan Government to continue and strengthen efforts to fight corruption. We look forward to working with the Afghan authorities to review the force structure and capabilities of the ANSF to achieve a sufficient and sustainable force. We restate the aim, agreed at Chicago, that Afghanistan should assume, no later than 2024, full financial responsibility for its own security forces.  

In the long term, NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership. NATO Allies remain committed to the NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership, agreed at the Lisbon Summit in 2010. The strengthening of this partnership will reflect the changing nature of NATO’s relationship with Afghanistan whilst complementing the Resolute Support Mission and continuing beyond it. Both the political and practical elements of this partnership should be jointly owned and strengthened through regular consultation on issues of strategic concern. NATO is ready to work with Afghanistan to develop this partnership in line with NATO’s Partnership Policy, possibly including the development of an Individual Partnership Cooperation Programme at an appropriate time.

(3) See analysis by Ian Anthony, director of SIPRI’s European Security Program, (see here and here) (where he discusses Afghanistan under the heading of “Addressing the arc of crises: taking on armed Islamist extremist movements while staying engaged in Afghanistan”). Also, see analysis by the German Federal Academy for Security Policy here.




Afghan National Security Forces International MIlitary NATO Resolute Support


Martine van Bijlert

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