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He Got The Title Wrong? and 6 More Mistakes from Luttrell's "Lone Survivor"

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

As I wrote on Monday, I take Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor personally. I lived in the Korengal valley; I walked the trails on the other side of the Sawtalo Sar. Knowing the Korengal, Luttrell’s story just confused me. Take the number of people in Ben Sharmak’s army, Luttell puts it at up to 200.

When I first read that line, it didn’t sound right. But I couldn’t prove that Luttrell was wrong, I merely had my suspicions.

So I searched for the original "after-action report" for the ambush of SEAL Team 10, to find out more about “Ben Sharmak” and his army. I couldn't find it, but I did find this incredible site for the book Victory Point. The author Ed Darack, corrects several of Luttrell's glaring errors.

The mistakes in Lone Survivor aren't minor, they are gaping holes. Here are the seven worst:

1. The title.

The Marine Battalion--3rd Battalion of the 3rd Regiment--that initially planned the mission used sports teams to name their missions. Previous missions were called Spurs, Mavericks and Celtics, and after all the Texan and Boston team names were used up, the 3/3 Marines decided to switch to hockey names. Luttrell’s Operation Redwing doesn’t exist; the mission was called Operation Red Wings, like the Detroit hockey team.

I understand that little details and facts will be lost in such a crazy attack, but getting the mission name wrong is bizarre, especially getting it wrong in the first draft, second draft, manuscript, galley proof and paperback edition. For the rest of our posts we will refer to the mission as Operation Red Wings, to be factually accurate.

2. Satellite versus cellular phone.

Marcus Luttrell repeatedly refers to his team's satellite phone as a cell phone. Cell phone use in Afghanistan is exploding (literally and figuratively) all over the country, but not in the Korengal valley. They didn't have cell phone coverage when I was there in 2008, and they definitely didn't have it in 2005. What Luttrell is most likely referring to is a satellite phone that can be used anywhere in the world, most commonly called Thuraya.

What he doesn't clarify, and this is slightly off topic, is why SEAL Team 10's team leader waited so long call higher headquarters with the cellular/satellite phone. Even after their radios failed to contact higher headquarters they waited to use the satellite phone until the ambush had started. They had a very poor communication plan, without solid backups.

3. Taliban in Iraq?

In the chapter where Luttrell runs around Iraq with his SEAL buddies on snatch-and-grab missions, he describes Saddam Hussein as in league with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Simply wrong. This continues another unintentional--I hope--theme of Lone Survivor: lumping insurgent and terrorist groups together with no regard for the truth. Throughout his text he confuses, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Shia, Sunni, and other groups, while ignoring the other militants in Afghanistan.

4. Saddam had WMD?

Luttrell claims Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, going so far as to say that this is a "fact." It's hard to take the rest of the book seriously after reading that.

5. Saddam harbored Al Qaeda too?


He also claims that getting rid of Saddam was necessary to remove Al Qaeda training camps in Iraq. Again, I can’t imagine an educated reader taking Luttrell seriously after three mistakes that horribly misrepresent the US invasion of Iraq.

The last three points also show the bizarre world view of Marcus Luttrell. Everywhere he goes in the Middle East he sees Muslims as terrorists, and a crazy worldwide conspiracy to kill Americans. With such a viewpoint, it is hard to imagine him winning hearts and minds anywhere, but we’ll get into that in a later post.

6. An Army of 200?

In Lone Survivor, "Ben Sharmak," is one of the baddest dudes in all of Afghanistan. A dude who buddies around with Osama bin Laden. A bad mamma-jamma that may have had a hand in 9/11. And as I said earlier, he also runs an army of 80 to 200 insurgent/terrorists.

Except that--again heads up to Victory Point-- “Ben Sharmak” (real name Ahmad Shah), wasn't a high value target, or even a medium level target. He was barely on the Special Operations radar. He was affiliated with Hezb Il Gulbuddin, not Al Qaeda. And he never had 80 to 200 men under his control. Later videos, produced by Sharmak, feature between 8-10 men.

200 fighters is a huge number of troops, especially for the Korengal. If Afghanistan is sparsely populated, than the Korengal valley is virtually empty. Villages, if you call them that, have maybe ten or twelve families. The families eke out meager livings. Twenty fighters makes sense; 200 is ridiculous.

In a final bit of irony, Ahmad Shah only became a big player after news of his successful SEAL ambush made headlines.

7. An Attack by 6 or 8

I understand why Luttrell described Ahmad Shah as a big time Taliban leader, it a better story. So how else do you spice up a battle scene? Simple, add more people.

In Lone Survivor, Luttrell speculates that the ambush had probably 140 people in it, if not more. He describes his team as mowing down dozens of enemy. He describes multiple patrols of Taliban scouring the countryside for him. It feels like Luttrell is taking on an army.

Except that he didn’t. The ambush probably only used 8-10 of Ahmad Shah’s men, with “accidental guerillas” making up the rest. The ambush succeeded because of the use of RPGs, machine guns and terrain, not overwhelming numbers. Of course, explaining plunging fire is complicated, its much easier to simply say he faced a Taliban horde. In Luttrell's initial after-action report, according to Ed Darack in the Marine Corps Gazette, he said only 20-35 Taliban fighters were involved in the ambush. When Lone Survivor came out, the number climbed with every media appearance or speech.

The huge mistakes are mindboggling. How do you explain this? Well, Ed Darack, albeit without specifically mentioning Luttrell by name, sums it up perfectly (We haven't been able to get a copy of Victory Point yet, as soon as we do we will let our readers know what we think.):

"I think that the narrative of a four-man Navy SEAL team being deployed to take on a group of hundreds under the leadership of the right-hand man of the world's most wanted individual has all the makings of an edge-of-your-seat military action thriller. But it doesn't happen in reality. And it certainly wasn't the case in Red Wings."

22 comments

I think most of these mistakes are unforgivable.


Don´t bash him, he might have found Saddam Hussein himself in a cave in Afghanistan stashed with all his WMD´s and playing cards with Osama Bin Laden if Chuck Norris didn´t beat him to it. I heard he single handedly took down a group of 1,000 Mahdi Army / Taliban at the 2004 Death to America convention in Jalalabad.

Seriously though, didn´t they alread make this movie? I thought it was called Team America?


This whole week of posts on this book has been very much in the mind-boggling realm of disbelief. It’s remarkable that so many factual errors should go largely unchecked by the book’s publishers.


I still say there’s a stockpile of sarin gas buried somewhere in the desert.


Funny comments all, but it is unbelievable that these facts got through. The only one I can understand is some conservatives will always believe Saddam had WMD.

We had more funny little quips, that Eric and I would have put for our quote of the week, but we’re traveling across America and we decided that the hardcover version Lone Survivor from the library was too much weight to bring with us.


Funnily enough, I’m sure you would be in the group of people that would have called for the charging of Danny, Axe, Marcus and Mikey if they had killed the farmers.


If the SEAL Team had killed the locals, I probably would have supported a war crimes trial. Seeing the horrendous record we have for prosecuting war crimes, I doubt they would have seen much jail time.

The issue remains, they had many, many more options then the three Luttrell lays out in the book. Luttrell even clarifies that as a Christian he believed it was wrong to murder the civilians. Killing the locals who stumbled upon their position was the wrong decision: politically, morally and militarily. I am glad they made the right decision—though they could have taken the three captive—but I wish they had made smarter tactical decisions on the exfil, which is more likely why they were killed then letting the goat herders live.


I just don’t ever see the need for killing innocent, 14 year old non-combatants. Not my military.


MICHAEL C….“killing the locals who stumbled upon their postition was the wrong decision:politically,morally and militarily” well, well for the politically part…who cares? if im in a life or death situation like that, im not going to think what all the liberals back in america have to say. im going to do what will keep myself and my team alive first and formost. if it means mowing down a group of 50 15 year old girls with RPGs, then you better feed my ammo belt for me. now on to morally. morally, maybe. its not natural to kill innocent people. even though sometimes its needed. but you may be right there. now for militarily. it would be WRONG TO LET THEM GO militarily. you let them go, and you could all potentially get killed. if you get killed, all the secret documents, prc-148, psc-5d radios, CRYPTO, laptops loaded with map data and pictures all get captured by the enemy. not including the weapons. now they have our nations secrets. also, if they get killed, that means a SAR has to go out. who in turn (and they did) could be killed. this website is stupid. its nothing but a bunch of computer nerds and paper pushers that have never been in our boots. you guys have no idea what you are talking about. “MILITARILY” michael, are you even in the military? have you at the very least received a degree in military studies? if not, shut up. and to the #2:satellite vs cellular phone…it wasnt a thurya. IT WAS AN IRIDIUM SAT. PHONE WITH A SECURE SLEEVE. if your going to rant about false statements, get your own rants correct you idiot.


There is a lot wrong with what you wrote Patrick, but the main one is this: Michael served as a platoon commander in the valley next to the one luttrell was attacked in. I mean, he mentioned it in the first paragraph.

If you’re just going to write insults, you’re welcome to not post on this “stupid” website again.


‘Patrick’ is a classic example of the absolute very worst in the American military establishment and I pray to God he isn’t in a position to actually do operational harm.

In a counter-insurgency campaign, military action is inextricably linked to the political aspect whether you like it or not. I would have hoped the US military had learned this after their ‘experience’ in Iraq.

In the potential scenario involving fifty 15-year old girls being hosed down(!), ‘Patrick’ would be remembered in history as the man who single-handedly destroyed the US mission in Afghanistan. Of course, he’d blame it on the ‘Liberals’ and Obama.


is it a book filled with f bombs and anything else suggestive?
Does it irreverently use God’s name as an adjective or an expletive? Hosing 15 year old girls down? why?

could someone email me before I encourage a 14 year old boy to read this? asap.


There is cursing, violence, and the author compares himself to Jesus in multiple passages. I think he means well, but he advocates violence throughout the whole book; The author is a christian, but not a good one in my opinion.

I wouldn’t let a 14 year old boy read it, but that’s only because I think it is propaganda, not because there is cursing.


First of all, how the hell could anyone possibly have attained the AAR of a highly secret military operation? Its next to impossible. Just because someone is from near the place where these tragic events happened, doesnt make him an expert on what happened there. We trust these men to do the work that 99.9% of you are [Edited for profanity.] to do. why would he lie? there is no reason for him to lie. trust me, marcus wouldnt give a shit what anyone said about this. AND…I dont care what any of you say, that “14” year old deserved to have his american hating brains blown out all over that god forsaken mountain. if you have ever stepped one foot on a battlefield, then you have half a right to comment on this subject. if not, shut your mouth and live your little lives that are being secured by men like this. being an infantryman myself, it absolutely sickens me that this site is even up and running. what you all should do is simply say “thank you for everything you did for us, marcus” and leave it at that.


@ Kyle – “how the hell could anyone possibly have attained the AAR of a highly secret military operation? Its next to impossible.” The writer of Victory Point worked closely with Marines, and I believe they gave it to him to set the story straight. Doesn’t matter though, cause wikileaks put it into the public domain.

“why would he lie?” Here are five reasons: a movie deal, book sales, fame, fortune and a speaking tour.

Did he lie? I don’t know, but between the AAR, the Medal of Honor documentation, Lone Survivor, and two different public interviews on youtube, the number of attackers changed five times.

Finally, this post was written by a Soldier who served in Afghanistan in the infantry, who is currently deployed overseas, securing your freedom to tell us to “shut your mouth”

If our website “sickens” you, your welcome not to post here again.


Kyle,
1. I am an infantry officer, so I can comment on this blog and I can host it. That is why my blog exists.
2. Use proper military bearing when posting on my blog. You disrespect the infantry by using profanity and insults in your comments.
3. We live in a democracy and I support everyone’s right to oversee our military.


I have the utmost respect for our men and women in the service, but just being in the service does not make a person perfect and infallible. A similar situation existed with Andy McNab’s “Bravo Two Zero” wherein it was stated that his 8-man SAS patrol armed with Minimis, 203s and LAWs engaged up to 250 regular Iraqi soldiers with armored vehicles and came out tops. Another SAS soldier investigated the incident years later and concluded that most of the firefights never happened. What I am saying is that yes, we appreciate and we are thankful that there are men and women who go in harms way to protect our freedom, but just because a person says or writes something does not mean that it should be taken as the complete truth based solely on his association to a certain organization. I have read both Sole Survivor and Victory Point, and it’s my opinion that what caused the tragedy of Operation Red Wings has more to do with the organization, policy and infighting within USOCOM.


Does anyone have a link to the Wikileaks after action report? I have been to their site twice and could not find it.


Ed Darack references it as a citation in his book “Victory point”. Anyways, if you want a copy of Murphy’s MOH citation: http://www.navy.mil/moh/mpmurphy/oc.html... It cites 30-40 men.

I’ve been looking for the AAR as well, but can’t find it because I don’t know the release date.


First off I’d like to thank Marcus and Michael,

And I presume Patrick, Kyle (..) and any other posters who served or serve. I am myself on that list too, if that adds any weight to my words..

Marcus’s book, to my mind, demonstrates a lack of maturity in himself. That’s OK though, we’ve all been immature. Obviously the writing gives Marcus a number of opportunities for him to criticize a few things he’s either angry against or to align himself with a number of conservative ideologies.

Michael piece at the top here is quite right to point out those inconsistancies and also the errors. I’d hope that the reality sits somewhere between the two.

Errors:
1. Title. Red Wings/Redwing. I’m not sure how many ops everyone here has been on, but names are not the important bit, whether the name is passed verbally or written down, you only really get to remember the name if it lasts long enough before the next one comes along. I think since we’re all happy that Marcus was on the Operation, the name is unimportant. Personally, I’d chalk it down to a little bit of deliberate misinformation.
2. Sat vs. Cell. Again the difference is unimportant and could well have been simplified for the reader. An alternative is that the phone was not part of the comms-pack and something that Marcus was not briefed on. Therefore he called it how he saw it..
3. Taliban/Iraq. Obviously we all know this, where I come from, we’re expected to be plugged into the news feed and know this stuff. If your news feed was only Fox in 2003 however perhaps you’d make this mistake. That Marcus is of this mindset does not take away from his actions in Afghanistan. That he didn’t know it even by the time he was writing his book or that his editor didn’t point out that he was making a mistake however does concern me..
4. Saddam/WMD. As above.
5. Saddam/AQ. As above.
6. 200 / 500 / 20 – 35. I’d like to say that the number doesn’t matter, 3 FF died in the firefight. He was wounded. That said, anyone that’s been shot at can tell you that estimating en numbers is a difficult thing to do. If it seemed like 200, I’d write 200. I’ll accept that it was 1/10 of that number, either way, they were getting wounded and killed, had lost any night advantage and were trying to escape. Well armed SEAL teams don’t do get into that situation easily so clearly it was not good. I believe that hollywood generally likes consistant numbers before it’ll agree to make a movie so Marcus may well ahve shot himself in the foot if he’s changing the figures.

My overriding thought when I read the book was that the SEAL team allowed itself to be compromised and then screwed their exfil. No idea what SEAL SOPS are, but if I recall, they didn’t move anywhere near far enough after being compromised. The reasons for this however could be down to operational factors we have no idea of but Marcus didn’t imply that their move of a few hundred metres was so short for any particular reason.

Lastly, the whole eliminate the civilians before they compromise you argument and Marcus’s rant against their Rules of Engagement scared me. The US enjoys the most open ROE of any 1st world army and yet seems to always want more, I’m a big believer in granting more local leniency within a framework depending on mission and zone but when I hear Marcus’s teams desire to kill the herders I do worry that their is a lack of moral compass.

Really, you can’t kill people who aren’t trying to kill or harm you, if you can’t think of a reason why not, then you need to take a moment to read Marcus’s book. When he received the protection of the local village, he received the protection of people that lived in the valley and it was touch and go. How likely would they have been to have granted him protection if the elder of the village up the valley came down and pointed out one of their 14 yo herders had a bullet in the head from the SEAL team? Not very likely. So unwittingly Marcus was the beneficiary of not killing the boy.


Eric C (URL) | 29-09-’10 21:09

Ed Darack references it as a citation in his book “Victory point”. Anyways, if you want a copy of Murphy’s MOH citation: http://www.navy.mil/moh/mpmurphy/oc.html..... It cites 30-40 men.

I’ve been looking for the AAR as well, but can’t find it because I don’t know the release date.

read the Summary of Action. It states “Operation Red Wing”. Posted by the US Military. 30-40.


Operation Redwing
June 28, 2005

On June 28, 2005, deep behind enemy lines east of Asadabad in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, a very committed four-man Navy SEAL team was conducting a reconnaissance mission at the unforgiving altitude of approximately 10,000 feet. The SEALs, Lt. Michael Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell had a vital task. The four SEALs were scouting Ahmad Shah – a terrorist in his mid-30s who grew up in the adjacent mountains just to the south.

Under the assumed name Muhammad Ismail, Shah led a guerrilla group known to locals as the “Mountain Tigers” that had aligned with the Taliban and other militant groups close to the Pakistani border. The SEAL mission was compromised when the team was spotted by local nationals, who presumably reported its presence and location to the Taliban.

A fierce firefight erupted between the four SEALs and a much larger enemy force of more than 50 anti-coalition militia. The enemy had the SEALs outnumbered. They also had terrain advantage. They launched a well-organized, three-sided attack on the SEALs. The firefight continued relentlessly as the overwhelming militia forced the team deeper into a ravine.

Trying to reach safety, the four men, now each wounded, began bounding down the mountain’s steep sides, making leaps of 20 to 30 feet. Approximately 45 minutes into the fight, pinned down by overwhelming forces, Dietz, the communications petty officer, sought open air to place a distress call back to the base. But before he could, he was shot in the hand, the blast shattering his thumb.

Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Murphy, intent on making contact with headquarters, but realizing this would be impossible in the extreme terrain where they were fighting, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life moved into the open, where he could gain a better position to transmit a call to get help for his men.

Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire. This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy. While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in. Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.

An MH-47 Chinook helicopter, with eight additional SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers aboard, was sent is as part of an extraction mission to pull out the four embattled SEALs. The MH-47 was escorted by heavily-armored, Army attack helicopters. Entering a hot combat zone, attack helicopters are used initially to neutralize the enemy and make it safer for the lightly-armored, personnel-transport helicopter to insert.

The heavy weight of the attack helicopters slowed the formation’s advance prompting the MH-47 to outrun their armored escort. They knew the tremendous risk going into an active enemy area in daylight, without their attack support, and without the cover of night. Risk would, of course, be minimized if they put the helicopter down in a safe zone. But knowing that their warrior brothers were shot, surrounded and severely wounded, the rescue team opted to directly enter the oncoming battle in hopes of landing on brutally hazardous terrain.

As the Chinook raced to the battle, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter, killing all 16 men aboard.

On the ground and nearly out of ammunition, the four SEALs, Murphy, Luttrell, Dietz and Axelson, continued the fight. By the end of the two-hour gunfight that careened through the hills and over cliffs, Murphy, Axelson and Dietz had been killed. An estimated 35 Taliban were also dead.

The fourth SEAL, Luttrell, was blasted over a ridge by a rocket propelled grenade and was knocked unconscious. Regaining consciousness some time later, Luttrell managed to escape – badly injured – and slowly crawl away down the side of a cliff. Dehydrated, with a bullet wound to one leg, shrapnel embedded in both legs, three vertebrae cracked; the situation for Luttrell was grim. Rescue helicopters were sent in, but he was too weak and injured to make contact. Traveling seven miles on foot he evaded the enemy for nearly a day. Gratefully, local nationals came to his aid, carrying him to a nearby village where they kept him for three days. The Taliban came to the village several times demanding that Luttrell be turned over to them. The villagers refused. One of the villagers made his way to a Marine outpost with a note from Luttrell, and U.S. forces launched a massive operation that rescued him from enemy territory on July 2.

By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit and inspirational devotion to his men in the face of certain death, Lt. Murphy was able to relay the position of his unit, an act that ultimately led to the rescue of Luttrell and the recovery of the remains of the three who were killed in the battle.

This was the worst single-day U.S. Forces death toll since Operation Enduring Freedom began nearly six years ago. It was the single largest loss of life for Naval Special Warfare since World War II.

The Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community will forever remember June 28, 2005 and the heroic efforts and sacrifices of our special operators. We hold with reverence the ultimate sacrifice that they made while engaged in that fierce fire fight on the front lines of the global war on terrorism (GWOT).

NSW

OPERATION REDWING KIAs- On June 28, 2005, three of four SEALS on the ground (Murphy, Dietz, Axelson) were killed during combat operations in support of Operation Red Wing. ON the same say, a QRF of eight Navy SEALs and 8 Army Night Stalkers were also killed when the MH-47 helicopter that they were aboard was shot down by enemy fire in the vicinity of Asadabad, Afghanistan in Kumar Province.

Navy SEALs
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

1. Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y. 2. Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew G. Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, Calif. 3. Machinist Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Eric S. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nev. 4. Senior Chief Information Systems Technician (SEAL) Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, N.H. 5. Quartermaster 2nd Class (SEAL) James Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.

SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, Virginia Beach, Va.

1. Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny P. Dietz, 25, of Littleton, Colo.

SEAL Team 10, Virginia Beach, Va.

1. Chief Fire Controlman (SEAL) Jacques J. Fontan, 36, of New Orleans, La. 2. Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego, Calif. 3. Electronics Technician 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Ore. 4. Lt. (SEAL) Michael M. McGreevy Jr., 30, of Portville, N.Y. 5. Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffrey S. Taylor, 30, of Midway, W.Va.

Army Night Stalkers
3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Hunter Army Air Field, Ga.

1. Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio. 2. Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks Grove, Minn. 3. Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Fla. 4. Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville, Ind. 5. Maj. Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot, Conn. 6. Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, 31, of Stafford, Va. 7. Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach, 40, of Jacksonville, Fla.

HQ Company, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky.

1. Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, 36, of Franklin, Tenn. U.S. Navy SEALs are the maritime component of U.S. Special Operations Command and the Navy’s special operations force. The SEALs take their name from the elements in which they operate – sea, air and land. Experts in special reconnaissance and direct action missions – SEALs continue to successfully execute DoD’s most important warfighting missions in the GWOT.

For more information on Naval Special Warfare visit: http://www.seal.navy.mil

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