Taliban Attacks On Cell Towers Prompt A Blackout

Taliban Attacks On Cell Towers Prompt A Blackout
March 27th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Taliban Attacks On Cell Towers Prompt A Blackout

Taliban Attacks On Cell Towers Prompt A Blackout
Philadelphia Inquirer
March 27, 2008 Rebels say U.S. and NATO forces are tracking phone signals. The shutdown angers Afghans.
By Jason Straziuso, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban attacks on telecom towers have prompted cell-phone companies to shut down service across southern Afghanistan at night, angering a quarter-million customers who have no other telephones.
Even some Taliban fighters now regret the disruptions and are demanding that service be restored by the companies.
The communication blackout was the goal of the Taliban, which said the United States and NATO were using the fighters' cell-phone signals to track them at night and launch pinpoint attacks.
About 10 towers have been attacked since the warning late last month, the telecom ministry said. Afghanistan's four major mobile-phone companies began cutting nighttime service across the south soon afterward.
The speed with which the companies acted shows how little influence the government has in remote areas and how just a few attacks there can cripple a basic service and a booming, profitable industry. The shutdown could also stifle international investment in the country during a time of rising violence.
The cutoff is proving extremely unpopular among Afghan citizens. Even some Taliban fighters are asking that the towers be switched back on, said Afghanistan's telecommunications minister, A. Sangin.
That dissenting view shows how decisions made by the top-ranking Taliban leadership can have negative consequences for lower-ranking fighters in the field, the minister said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid hinted in a telephone interview that the group could change its tactics. "We see that some people are having problems, so we might change the times that the networks are shut down in the coming days," Mujahid said.
That the Taliban could dictate when the country's mobile-phone networks operate shows the weakness of the central government and the international forces that operate here, said Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political analyst in Kabul.
"After the Taliban announcement, they were aware of the situation, and still they couldn't provide security for the towers," Akhgar said. "Maybe destroying a few towers will not have any effect on the government, but the news or the message that comes out of this is very big, and all to the benefit of the Taliban."
All four of the major phone companies - Roshan, AWCC, Areeba and Etisalat - declined to comment.
Sangin said the government was not overly worried about the Taliban threat because Afghans are becoming increasingly angered by the shutdown. He said seven destroyed towers, and three others with minor damage, out of the 2,000 now in the country was "not a big thing," though he added that the towers cost from $150,000 to $300,000 each.
"Our view of the people targeting the telecom infrastructure is that it's not a fight against the foreign troops, it's not a fight against the government, it's actually targeting the people, because the result of such activities is that the people will suffer," Sangin said. "We believe the people will stand up and provide protection for the telecom towers."
Sangin said the Taliban's stated reason for wanting the networks shut down - because the U.S. and NATO can track militants' movements - didn't make sense, because the fighters could simply turn their phones off or remove the batteries.

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