Taliban turn cell phones back on in Afghan south

The ban affected more than 800,000 cellular phone users in southwest Helmand province.

Kabul: The Taliban have allowed the restoration of cellular phone services to parts of southwestern Afghanistan, two weeks after they ordered a shutdown to prevent people from giving away their movements to NATO forces, a government official and the insurgents said on Thursday.

The ban affected more than 800,000 cellular phone users in southwest Helmand province and another 100,000 in surrounding areas. Helmand remains a Taliban stronghold despite months of fighting between US-led coalition forces and insurgents. The Taliban ordered the networks to close down about two weeks ago and blew up eight cell phone towers to
enforce the ban.

The shutdown, which was honoured by all four of Afghanistan`s private cellular networks, shows the influence the Taliban wield in many parts of the country, despite a ramped up campaign against them by coalition forces, who say they have stopped the insurgents in parts of the south.

Despite claims of success against the Taliban, government forces essentially control only the major cities and towns in many parts of the south and east. Both sides claimed credit for partially restoring the
cell phone service.

Sayed Mohammad Anwari, head of the licensing department at the telecommunications ministry, said phone service had been restored during daylight hours. He said technical reasons had prevented the companies from getting the phones to work at night. He said the Afghan government is providing security for the phone companies, so "during the day you are able to make calls in Helmand."

The Taliban claimed the decision to allow phone companies to restore services was their own and had nothing to do with the government.