Taliban target mobile phone masts to prevent tipoffs from Afghan civilians

The Guardian reports: Afghanistan’s communications infrastructure has become the latest casualty of the intensified war between Nato and the Taliban, with mobile phone companies reporting crippling attacks on their network of transmission masts.

The onslaught came in the wake of a decree by Hamid Karzai ordering phone companies to defy insurgent demands to shut down transmission networks in large parts of the country during the night.

The mobile phone networks are a key battleground in the war on the Taliban as the vast majority of anti-insurgent tipoffs from Afghan civilians are made at night, through phone calls.

The phone industry says the damage has been so great that the numbers of hours of coverage available to all phone users has fallen significantly – the first time there has been such a fall.

After a decade of explosive growth in public access to phones, which are now part of everyday life for millions of Afghans, the falloff is an extraordinary change of fortunes for an industry that is often cited as one of the country’s biggest post-2001 success stories.

The Taliban began attacking transmission masts in 2007, but the damage was limited and the attacks were often aimed only at extorting money from companies.

But since mid-summer attacks have soared, with up to 30 towers being destroyed or damaged in one 20-day period. Previously a loss of five would be considered a bad month.

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