Counter-Terrorism: Paint It Black

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April 6,2008: In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban have admitted that they may have made a mistake in attacking the cell phone companies. This was a campaign by the Islamic terrorists to shut down cell phone service at night, that has turned into a public relations nightmare. The Taliban damaged or destroyed ten cell phone towers outside the southern city of Kandahar, and forced the cell phone companies to shut down service at night for about 300,000 rural customers in areas where the Taliban gunmen are active. The Taliban believed NATO was using cell phone signals to track Taliban movements at night. Actually, NATO has several ways to track the Taliban at night. Few in the Taliban seem to understand how ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) works, so this campaign against cell phones is simply a desperate reaction to many smart bomb attacks, or police raids, on houses where Taliban were spending the night.

The Taliban themselves make heavy use of cell phones, especially since service has been installed in many rural areas. To make this happen, the cell phone companies make deals with the local tribal leaders, who want cell phone service and are willing to protect, or at least not attack the cell phone towers (which cost up to $250,000 each.)

The tribesmen are often pro-Taliban, and want the cell phone service to stay in touch with friends, family and the few government services that are available. Now the Taliban has angered people who were on their side. The tribesmen are demanding that night service to be restored.

There are now over five million cell phone users in Iraq, and many rural areas are getting access to phone service for the first time ever. The cell phone companies have invested over a billion dollars so far, giving many Afghans access to telephone service for the first time. This is common in poor countries, where government monopolies and high costs prevented the establishment of conventional landline phone systems anywhere but in a cities and some large towns.

The government is publicizing this PR debacle as another example of Taliban efforts to prevent reconstruction efforts, while the government struggles to improve infrastructure and the economy. The story is getting a lot of play throughout the country, depleting what little good-will the Taliban had left.

 


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