Taliban target telecoms in $3bn blow for Afghan leadership

An Afghan talks on his mobile phone in Kabul. Taliban insurgents recently shut down private telecommunication companies in several parts of the country. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2018

Taliban target telecoms in $3bn blow for Afghan leadership

  • In recent years, engineers and employees of firms have been targeted and killed when the companies failed to follow insurgents’ orders.
  • Scores of mobile phone towers have been destroyed by Taliban insurgents after firms ignored their demands to shut down operations during military offensives

KABUL: Taliban insurgents and criminal groups are targeting Afghanistan’s telecommunications network, raising the security threat in the country and putting an industry with an estimated $3 billion value under growing strain.

Attacks by insurgents and criminals extorting money from private telecommunications firms have increased throughout the country. Raids have taken place in previously secure areas in northern and northeastern provinces that are outside the traditional power base of the Taliban, officials and phone operators said.

In southern Helmand and neighboring Uruzgan provinces, the Taliban who lead the insurgency against the government and US-led troops have broadened their ban on mobile phone firms following offensives by Afghan and foreign troops.

Insurgents also want to show that the government is unable to safeguard mobile phone operations.

“Telecommunication was one of the success stories in the new Afghanistan from the viewpoint of generating investment and revenues for the government,” a senior official for a major mobile company told Arab News on Friday.

“Foreign investors and ordinary Afghans have become reliant on the industry in recent years.” 

The official, who declined to be named, said: “We are talking about the country’s biggest private investment suffering, an investment that provides several hundred million dollars as tax revenue to the government annually and offers jobs to tens of thousands of Afghans.”

Scores of mobile phone towers have been destroyed by Taliban insurgents after firms ignored their demands to shut down operations during military offensives. Militants believe locals or government agents use the networks to relay information on the location of their fighters.

Each tower costs at least $400,000 to replace. In some insecure areas, firms have been unable to deliver fuel to keep the towers’ generators running, or have been barred by the government, which fears insurgents will steal the fuel, an official with another mobile firm said.

In recent years, engineers and employees of firms have been targeted and killed when the companies failed to follow insurgents’ orders. Now when the Taliban tell operators to shut down operations, there is rarely any delay in doing so.

“This is a major economic, political blow to the government,” Obaidullah Barekzai, a lawmaker from Uruzgan province, told Arab News.

“Mobile phones have been banned in the entire Uruzgan, except for an hour every day in its provincial capital.”

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed the restrictions on mobile operators, particularly in Helmand.

“According to our intelligence in Helmand and in some other parts of the country, American troops have been misusing the telephone companies and are bombing people’s houses and conducting raids on them,” he said.

“As long as security threats exist and danger is posed to the lives of people, we are forced to shut down telephone networks and will allow resumption of their activities only when security allows.”

Until a few years ago, it was the country’s younger generation that relied on mobile phones and Internet, but now older people go online to contact relatives and family members who have been living abroad as war refugees or migrants, another official said. Mobile Money has been used by some firms to pay the salaries of government troops and civil servants in remote and volatile areas in recent years.

Taliban attack Afghan police base, 11 killed

Updated 40 min 49 sec ago

Taliban attack Afghan police base, 11 killed

KABUL, Afghanistan: Taliban militants attacked a police base in northern Afghanistan, killing 11, possibly with help from at least one of the policemen inside, local government officials said Tuesday.
The insurgents first overran a checkpoint near the base late Monday, and were apparently able to breach the compound with ease because a sympathetic policeman opened a door for them.
These details were provided by Mabobullah Ghafari, a provincial councilman in Baghlan province where the attack took place. A local police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to brief reporters about the attack, also gave the same account.
Insider attacks have been steady throughout Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict, with US and NATO troops most often targeted. But when Afghan security forces are targeted, the casualty rate is often much higher.
Last July, two US service members were killed by an Afghan soldier in the southern Kandahar province. The shooter was wounded and arrested. In September, three US military personnel were wounded when a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police fired on a military convoy, also in Kandahar.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on the outskirts of Puli Khumri, Baghlan’s provincial capital. But the Taliban have a strong presence in the province and frequently target Afghan security forces in and around the city.
Last September, the insurgents attacked Puli Khumri and blocked the city’s main highway to the capital Kabul for more than a week.
The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country.
The US and the Taliban are currently attempting to negotiate a reduction in hostilities or a cease-fire. That would allow a peace agreement to be signed that could bring home an estimated 13,000 American troops, and open the way to a broader post-war deal for Afghans.