Press Briefing on Afghanistan

James F. Dobbins
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Kabul, Afghanistan
July 22, 2014
Map of Afghanistan, courtesy of the University of Texas
Map of Afghanistan, courtesy of the University of Texas

Ambassador Dobbins: Thank you all for coming.

I’m here this week to look and see how progress is being made at implementing the agreement that was reached between the two candidates during Secretary Kerry’s visit here the weekend before this. I’ve had a chance over the last several days to meet twice actually with Dr. Ghani, with Dr. Abdullah. I also met with Jan Kubis, the head of the UN. I had a couple of meetings with President Karzai. I met with the general commanding ISAF, with Vice President Yunus Qanuni. In a little while when we’re finished here I’m going to meet with the head of the Independent Election Commission, Dr. Nuristani. I’m also going to visit the warehouses where the actual auditing process is taking place.

The auditing process started six days ago. It was intended to begin gradually because there were any number of kinks and issues that had to be resolved for the process to move slowly. It’s been gathering steam, each day increasing the number of boxes and ballots that are being examined, and we anticipate that the pace will continue to pick up.

At the moment the audit is being conducted in two five-hour shifts, from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and then from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. We anticipate that after the end of Ramadan they’ll actually add a third shift, a shift that will be in the night, so there will be three shifts with up to 100 tables looking at up to a thousand ballot boxes a day.

I think those of you who have had a chance to go out to the audit floor have seen a scene of a great deal of enthusiasm, a very busy area. You have large numbers of people participating in this process. It includes candidate agents from both candidates. It includes international observers. It includes officials from the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission and it includes experts from the United Nations. All of these individuals are operating at a series of tables at which boxes are being opened and ballots are being examined.

As of Sunday, as of this last Sunday, 42 percent of the ballots had been delivered to Kabul. These ballots are being brought from all over the country. This itself is a pretty massive exercise with almost eight million or about eight million ballots that have to be transported safely and without any possibility of tampering from the provincial centers where they are to Kabul where they can be audited.

The whole operation is really unprecedented. The UN tells me they’ve never been involved in such a large-scale operation in such a compressed period of time in which you’re actually re-examining every single ballot in an election. So I think a lot of credit needs to go to the Independent Electoral Commission, the United Nations, the observers, and the candidate agents, all of whom have been mobilized on very short notice for an unfamiliar process in order to get this moving with an expectation that it can be completed in the next few weeks in order to allow the presidential election to be completed and a new government of national unity to take office.

I also had a chance yesterday, I had my initial meetings the day before yesterday, on Sunday, with the candidates, the President. I then spent several hours yesterday in Pakistan where I had an opportunity to meet with the Chief of the Army Staff General Rahil Sharif; with Sartaj Aziz, the National Security Advisor; and with the Interior Minister; where most of the discussion revolved around the large military operation that Pakistan is undertaking in North Waziristan to clear that area of both domestic Pakistani and foreign militants.

I’ve also had, as I noted, a chance to talk a couple of times with both of the candidates. They are talking to each other. They’ve had a couple of meetings last week after Secretary Kerry left, and they will continue to meet in the future in order both to ensure that the auditing process goes forward and also to begin to discuss the modalities for forming a government of national unity as the two committed to do during Secretary Kerry’s visit.

I think I’ll stop there and I’ll be glad to take questions.

Wall Street Journal: A couple of days ago it seems there wasn’t too much of a consensus between the two camps on how to disqualify votes. Has that been addressed? Are you helping the two camps find a solution to that?

Ambassador Dobbins: This was a task for the UN. There are two stages to that process. One is looking at the criteria by which a ballot should be judged. The UN with the cooperation of the IEC and both of the candidates agreed to a 16 point uniform checklist that will be the basis of IEC decisions on the validity of the vote.

So when you go through a box there are a certain number of things you check off, and that checklist has been agreed between all of the parties.

There’s also a question of the criteria for then determining whether, depending on the contents of that checklist, whether votes will be disqualified or not. Those discussions are still underway but having talked to both of the candidates today and to the United Nations, it appears there are only a couple of relatively small issues left.

BBC: Mr. Ambassador, what is your definition of a national unity government? I think there’s been a lot of confusion on both the candidates what exactly that means. Where do you see President Karzai’s role in all of this? And on the Pakistani operation, are you content the Pakistanis are going after the Haqqani Network as the Afghan government continues to show their concern in that regard.

Ambassador Dobbins: I’ll almost certainly forget the second half of the question by the time I finish answering the first half, so you can remind me. Remind me of the first half, actually.

BBC: Mr. Ambassador, what is your definition of –

Ambassador Dobbins: Okay, national unity government. I think to a certain degree this is up to the two candidates themselves to define. But the concept is that there will be a president, there will be a chief executive officer who will be nominated by the loser, if you will, and appointed by the president. They’ll have to obviously agree on that. There will be discussion between them about the distribution of portfolios. Again, there will be agreement. There will be participation from elements of both camps, and probably independent individuals based on expertise and merit in the government. The government will be one in which both camps and perhaps both individuals will participate, and they will work together to advance national interest in a collaborative fashion.

The second half?

BBC: President Karzai’s role.

Ambassador Dobbins: President Karzai will be the former president. I don’t know that he expects or anticipates or wants to have any former role –

BBC: No, what is his role in the current –

Ambassador Dobbins: He, as you know, has encouraged the UN and the United States to help advance this process. He welcomed Secretary Kerry’s visit. He’s very pleased that the visit resulted in an agreement between the two candidates. He’s encouraged the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission to cooperate with the United Nations. And he’s encouraging the candidates to meet with each other regularly and begin discussing the issues that they’ll need to address if they’re to collaborate in a government of national unity.

I think the operation in North Waziristan seems to be quite a massive operation. You’ve had almost 800,000 people who are refugees or displaced persons who have left North Waziristan, which is actually 200,000 more than they actually thought lived in North Waziristan, so it’s essentially the entire population. The army has taken a number of casualties; it’s inflicted an even larger number of casualties on both the domestic and foreign militants in the area. Domestic meaning Pakistani; foreign meaning other nationalities including Afghan. It’s seized huge amounts of ammunition, of IED precursor material and bomb-making facilities particularly in Miranshah.

The operation is continuing. It’s begun in the population centers and the lowlands and it will expand into the highlands in the coming weeks. There are important issues of assistance to the displaced persons which we want to be helpful with. And of course there will also be issues of reconstruction when the operation is over which again, the United States wants to be helpful.

As regards the Haqqani Network, we believe that they, like other militants, have in fact been pushed out of North Waziristan and our concern is whether they would come back or be allowed to operate elsewhere in Pakistan. We’ve been assured by the Pakistani government that they will not be allowed back into North Waziristan and they will not be allowed to operate from elsewhere in Pakistan. We will, of course, be observing that carefully.

AFP: Obviously the United States is very keen not to get involved in an independent country’s elections. What are the risks of being so closely involved now?

Ambassador Dobbins: Of course the risk of being involved in anything is you assume some degree of responsibility for it. I think we made an effort to avoid any role in the period before the election because we didn’t want to suggest that we supported one candidate or another and because we wanted to demonstrate that Afghan institutions had matured and were capable of addressing the complex issues resulting in an election, which largely they were. This is the fifth Afghan election, it’s the first one that ever occurred on time, and technically most of the preparations were superior to those that had been done during previous elections where the international community had a more formal role.

It’s clear, however, that in the end, despite this, that there was a degree of fraud. Both sides agree that there was fraud. How it’s distributed is yet to be determined, but the issue appeared significantly serious enough so that both candidates and President Karzai all asked for U.S. and international assistance in order to ensure that the process of adjudicating the disputes, addressing the quality of the ballots and determining the winner should have full legitimacy within Afghanistan, and of course the Afghan institutions are fully participating and are legally responsible for the outcome, but also that it would have full legitimacy internationally.

So we’ve responded to a clear request from the candidates and from the President of Afghanistan. At this point, I think it’s no longer a case of whether or not we favor one candidate or another. Clearly, both candidates believe we’re impartial in that regard. And both candidates, I believe, I’m sure, believe the UN is also impartial in that regard.

Media: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

You have talked about the unity government. The main concern among the Afghan people, for example, the corrupt people or those people who are not the good [inaudible], they are again joining a unity government. Do you think that such a government would be a legitimate government for the U.S.? What is your position?

Ambassador Dobbins: I don’t have any reason to believe that the candidates will agree on appointing of people who have been involved in corruption. I believe they both had campaigns in which they committed themselves to reform and campaigns against corruption. But I think it’s also important to believe that nobody is going to be appointed unless both the president, and in some cases, the opposition or the person who’s not the president, the leader of the second largest winner, agrees. So nobody’s going to be appointed over the firm objection of the other. It’s going to be a collaborative process.

The Guardian: We’ve got an audit going on without any criteria for the invalidation of ballots. It’s going [Inaudible] on at a pace that would take over three months to get a result. The two candidates do feel quite strongly behind the scenes that they’re unhappy with aspects of the unity government. How realistic is it do you think that or how nervous are you that this process is going to derail? Also what would the time line we are looking at? Is Afghanistan going to have a president by September, October, if it doesn’t go ok?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think President Karzai has determined that Afghanistan will have a new president by the end of August and both candidates are committed to that deadline, as are we.

Media: With all due respect, do you expect [inaudible] a president by August second? He was so confident that that inauguration was going to happen. [Inaudible] What’s to say I’s not going to happen again.

Ambassador Dobbins: Right.

Media: They talk about [inaudible] great havoc. He was very very [adamant]. So what does that [inaudible] even the fact that you have huge disagreements about the shape of the government and [inaudible] validation criteria, and incredibly slow pace. So that [inaudible].

Ambassador Dobbins: I guess I just don’t accept all of those premises. I think the pace is picking up very smartly. I think there is full agreement on the criteria for evaluating each ballot. The criteria for invalidation is nearly agreed. And as I said, 42 percent of the ballots are already here. You’re opening a third warehouse. You’ve now got hundreds of observers, hundreds of party candidates, dozens of UN experts, hundreds of both Afghan observers and international observers, all of whom are working feverishly.

I think any of you who have visited the area will note that there’s a sense of enthusiasm; that they’re working very hard, and under difficult conditions, obviously, in the midst of Ramadan, and at the end of Ramadan that should pick up very smartly.

Media: Do you think there is a big challenge for –

Ambassador Dobbins: I might also say that having talked to both candidates, at this point I also don’t detect any disagreement about the basic framework for the unity government. There’s obviously a lot of work to do to fill out that framework, but neither of them have expressed any reservations about what they’ve already agreed.

Media: Do you think there is a big challenge that can be solved without your interference or U.S. interference?

Ambassador Dobbins: I don’t think what we’re doing now is interfering. We’re here at the invitation of both candidates, the president of the country. I think the public reaction to the agreement that was reached last week was one of relief. I think that there’s widespread support for the process. I think the Afghan people will be relieved to know that the election will produce a legitimate, clear-cut, clean result. And I think they’ll also be relieved that it will also result in a government which will include all important elements of Afghan society, including losers as well as winners, in the presidential contest.

Media: For some time during the [inaudible] candidates have supported [inaudible]. What do you [inaudible] for candidates [inaudible] and also guarantee IEC and [inaudible]?

Ambassador Dobbins: The audits are going forward. They’ve occasionally been stopped. We anticipated that given the complexity of the process in the first few days there were going to be questions that arose that needed to be addressed. Those questions have arose, they’ve been largely addressed. The pace is picking up, the number of ballots being audited is increasing, and we anticipate that that will continue to be the case.

For instance, in the first few days one had to operate with international observers that were drawn from local embassies. These are people who had not observed elections before. They’re inexperienced. Experienced observers who have done this before are coming in from abroad, from the United States and from Europe. So you’ll have not only more international observers, but you’ll have international observers with a greater background and experience in the coming days.

I think the candidate observers who are key to the process are becoming more sophisticated. It’s not something they’d ever done before. And they’re learning the process, they’re beginning to understand the framework and the best practices that are being promulgated by the United Nations, and the United Nations itself is bringing in additional people.

NPR: Would U.S. support both candidates if there will be something that one of the candidates would not be accepting the result of the vote and this process? What will be U.S. position? Will they help them or what will you do?

Ambassador Dobbins: Both candidates have explicitly and unqualifiedly agreed to accept the results of the audit. We anticipate that they will do so. They’ve repeated to me and they’ve repeated to Secretary Kerry that they would respect the results of this audit and we fully expect them to do so.

Thank you.

Russian Army uses drones during military exercises

Originally posted on defencerussia:

1

The Russian Army is using drones in its military exercises in the eastern regions of the country, a spokesman for the Eastern Military District said on Tuesday.
“A special-purpose training, involving an Eastern Military District unmanned air vehicle team, has started on Sakhalin Island today under the supervision of specialists from the unmanned aircraft division of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation,” Col. Alexander Gordeev said.
The drones, named Forpost, Zastava, Grusha and Leer, will be used for examining the coastline and searching for ‘sunken ships’ during the drills.
The Eastern Military District is a strategic command of Russia’s Armed Forces covering the country’s Far East and a part of Siberia.

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U.S. Defense Dept.: No Hint Russia Has Ceased Rebel Support

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By Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. | DOD News | 21 July 2014

This article was originally published on the Defense Department website on July 18.

Washington — Although it’s unclear who is helping separatists fighting in Ukraine and how much help is being provided, there are no indications that Russia has stopped its support, the Pentagon press secretary, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said July 18.

During a Pentagon news conference, Kirby discussed the need for Russia to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine and its potential involvement in the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

“We see no hint that Russian support for the separatists has ceased,” he said. “In fact, we believe that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons and other military equipment — financing as well,” the admiral said. “They continue to allow these Russian fighters to enter Ukraine freely.” Some tanks and personnel vehicles have made their way across the border, he added.

“It has been a steady, concerted campaign by Russia’s military to continue to support, resource [and] advise these separatists,” he said.

Kirby noted while there isn’t specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile crossed the border into Ukraine, “we’re not ruling anything in or out at this point.”

“The missile itself, the SA-11, which is the one we believe was used to down Flight 17, is a sophisticated piece of technology,” he said. “It strains credulity to think that [the separatists] could do this without some measure of Russian support and assistance.”

The admiral said “we want to let investigators do their work” to discern whether assistance includes Russian troops going across the border to act side by side with separatists to train and advise them.

“We do not have any reason to suspect that they have not provided some measure of support on the other side of that border,” Kirby said. “These paramilitary forces that we do not talk about as much anymore certainly did not act or behave or organize resources like some ragtag militia.”

Kirby emphasized he is not suggesting that Russian military advice and assistance has not somehow crossed the border, but that it is “just unclear exactly how much and when and who.”

“That is what the investigators are going to look at, and that is what we need to let them do,” he said.

Kirby also said he was unaware of any major changes to Russian military presence in the region.

“It’s roughly still about 10,000 to 12,000,” he said. “And it fluctuates a little bit from week to week, but the point is that it has been, over time, a steady increase of these combined arms tactical battalions across the border on the Russian side, but to the southeast of Ukraine.

“And they are close to the border — in many cases, closer than those forces who were more aligned right on the east,” he added. Tens of thousands were along the eastern border with Ukraine, he said, but not as close as these units appear to be.

The Russian military presence is further escalating tension, he said, and while it’s difficult to know what the intent is, the numbers are growing week by week.

Kirby said the Defense Department is “taking it seriously, and we’ve been monitoring the situation there as closely as we can.”

“Nobody in the Pentagon has been shy about talking about the continued threat posed by these separatist elements inside Ukraine, or frankly, by those combined arms forces that continue to amass along the border,” he said.

Kirby said Pentagon officials continue to review requests for Ukrainian military assistance, and the support continues to flow.

“The focus of that remains on the nonlethal side right now,” he said, “and some [of the] $33 million that the president has authorized of material has been getting to Ukrainian armed forces and border services.”

Recent deliveries include radios, body armor, individual first aid kits, sleeping mats, uniform items,” Kirby said. “Over the next few months,” he added, “additional items will start moving through the procurement process, to include night-vision goggles, thermal imagers, Kevlar helmets, explosive ordnance disposal robots and some additional radios.”

Other equipment has been given to Ukraine’s border guards, the admiral said, such as barbed wire, alarm systems, excavators, trucks, generators and communications gear.

Despite continuing to see “escalatory and dangerous” support from Russia to the separatists — which Kirby said “needs to stop” — the admiral also re-emphasized President Obama’s point that there will not be a U.S. military resolution.

“The president has been very clear from the outset that there’s not going to be a U.S. military solution here to the crisis in Ukraine,” he said. “What we’ve been doing has been efforts to … reinforce and support our NATO allies and partners in the region.”

Officials are looking for ways to improve interoperability and capability, he said, to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.

“And that’s what you’re going to continue to see us do,” Kirby said.

Read more: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2014/07/20140721304276.html?CP.rss=true#ixzz389DPP45z

State Dept. on Attack by South Sudanese Rebels

South Sudan Combatants, courtesy of The Nation
South Sudan Combatants, courtesy of The Nation

State Dept. on Attack by South Sudanese Rebels

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, D.C.
July 21, 2014

STATEMENT BY MARIE HARF, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON

South Sudanese Rebels Attack the Northern Town of Nasir

The United States condemns the South Sudanese opposition forces’ ground attack on the positions of the South Sudanese army (SPLA) in Nasir, Upper Nile State, on July 20. We call on both parties to immediately end all such attacks and fully adhere to their May 9 and June 10 commitments to cease hostilities and begin the disengagement of forces to be monitored and verified by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.

The people of Nasir, as with civilians all across South Sudan, have suffered from frequent and horrific acts of violence and human rights abuses since fighting broke out in mid-December, causing widespread displacement and a worsening humanitarian crisis as civilians fear returning to their homes. With famine conditions looming in some conflict-affected areas of South Sudan as early as August 2014, it is increasingly urgent that both parties immediately recommit themselves to inclusive, political negotiations.

We urge both President Kiir and Riek Machar to reaffirm their commitment to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and ensure that their forces, and all aligned forces, stop all fighting immediately. Attacks such as these are unacceptable; perpetrators on both sides must be held accountable; and the cycle of violence that has plagued South Sudan for too long must come to an end. It is imperative that both parties negotiate in good faith under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and embrace efforts of the African Union, United Nations, and others in the international community to support the peace process. We remind both parties that President Obama’s April 3, 2014 Executive Order makes clear that those who threaten peace, commit human rights abuses, or obstruct humanitarian operations, risk U.S. sanctions.

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Tunnel Attacks Have Israel on Edge

Originally posted on TIME:

Sometime around 5 a.m. Monday, ten men set out quietly on a pre-dawn mission, dressed in Israeli army uniforms and boots.

They were not, however, members of the Israel Defense Forces. They were members of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, and they had just emerged from one of the many tunnels the militants have dug between the Gaza Strip and Israel. That much, however, was not clear until the Israeli forces nearby noticed that the men who looked like their own were actually carrying Kalashnikovs and not Tavors, Israel’s stand-issue automatic rifles.

In the gunfight that ensued, Israeli soldiers killed 10 Hamas militants, the IDF says, but also lost four of its own when they were hit by an anti-tank rocket fired at them by the gunmen. The dramatic gun battle unfolded only about 650 feet (200 meters) from Kibbutz Nir Am, an agricultural commune founded by immigrants from Eastern…

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IN VIDEO: IDF destroys terror tunnel in Gaza Strip

Originally posted on :

IN VIDEO: IDF destroys terror tunnel in Gaza Strip, Ynet News, July 19, 2014

Video published by IDF shows method used to strike terrorist tunnels: Forces detonate explosive at opening, demolish infrastructure with bulldozer. Army official says ‘IDF will reach every target and every tunnel Hamas attempts to build’.

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2 Americans Killed in Fighting in Gaza Strip

Originally posted on TIME:

Two Americans who were soldiers for the Israel Defense Force were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Stuart Steinberg confirmed the death of his 24-year-old son Max Steinberg to The Associated Press on Sunday. Steinberg, whose family lives in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, was a sharpshooter for the Golani Brigade and was one of 13 men killed in fighting Saturday.

Earlier Sunday, the IDF said in a statement that 21-year-old Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli was killed in combat in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Deputy Consul General Maya Kadosh says Carmeli was from South Padre Island, Texas.

Steinberg was living in Beersheba, Israel. He attended Pierce College and El Camino Real High School in Southern California. After visiting Israel, he decided to return and join the IDF in December 2012.

[time-gallery id="3006773"]

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# HIS 201

russia for you

united in trust - from darkness to light

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The Social Historian

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Indo Africa Times

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Sudan Hub Group

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The Rojava Report

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Tech

News and reviews from the world of gadgets, gear, apps and the web

TheSurvivalPlaceBlog

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The Osint Journal Review

Global security,terrorism,counter-terrorism,intelligence gathering and analysis

The Official British Army Blog

Soldiers and Officers of the British Army in their own words

russia for you

united in trust - from darkness to light

Arab Arts Blog

Arab Arts and Literature

medievalfragments

Turning Over a New Leaf

The Social Historian

Adventures in the world of social, economic, and local history

Pony Express Afghanistan

A story of a man chasing his dragon on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

William's Euromaidan Chronicle

A collection of journal entries, translations, and articles on Ukraine's Euromaidan protests

Indo Africa Times

Reed to succeed in Africa !!!

Sudan Hub Group

Bridging the Gap – Discovering Sudanese Identity

The Rojava Report

News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan

Tech

News and reviews from the world of gadgets, gear, apps and the web

TheSurvivalPlaceBlog

Helping You Survive Your Next Outdoor Adventure!

The Osint Journal Review

Global security,terrorism,counter-terrorism,intelligence gathering and analysis

The Official British Army Blog

Soldiers and Officers of the British Army in their own words

russia for you

united in trust - from darkness to light

Arab Arts Blog

Arab Arts and Literature

medievalfragments

Turning Over a New Leaf

The Social Historian

Adventures in the world of social, economic, and local history

Pony Express Afghanistan

A story of a man chasing his dragon on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

William's Euromaidan Chronicle

A collection of journal entries, translations, and articles on Ukraine's Euromaidan protests

Indo Africa Times

Reed to succeed in Africa !!!

Sudan Hub Group

Bridging the Gap – Discovering Sudanese Identity

The Rojava Report

News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan

Tech

News and reviews from the world of gadgets, gear, apps and the web

TheSurvivalPlaceBlog

Helping You Survive Your Next Outdoor Adventure!

The Osint Journal Review

Global security,terrorism,counter-terrorism,intelligence gathering and analysis

The Official British Army Blog

Soldiers and Officers of the British Army in their own words

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