Taliban turn cell phones back on in Afghan south

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 11:27 AM
Taliban turn cell phones back on in Afghan south

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 Tuesday.

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 U.S.-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 honored 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 the 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.

"We ordered it to be turned off, and now we again are reopening it, because of civilian needs. Local people had problems and they needed to use the phones. We are allowing it in certain areas," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told The AP from an undisclosed location.

He said the Taliban decided to shut down the network for operational reasons.

"There were operations in different regions of Helmand and we had problems because people were giving information to government and NATO forces regarding us. We revised our strategy plan and now we are confident regarding our movements, and we are sure that now the people will not help the government or NATO forces," he said.

The shutdown was another indication that an expected spring offensive by the Taliban is under way both in the south and in the east.

There has been heavy fighting in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province in recent days. Six American soldiers were killed during an operation in the province, which borders Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

There also have been NATO operations in the southwest near the Pakistani border. Many insurgents are trying to return to Afghanistan from safe heavens in Pakistan, where they spent the cold winter months resting and training.

NATO said it captured the Taliban shadow governor of northwestern Sari Pul province, killing several insurgents during the raid.

Sari Pul Governor Anwar Rahmati said the operation occurred in Pusht-e-Bagh village in the province's Sayad district. He identified the Taliban commander as Mullah Manaj. Rahmati said three others were detained and six were killed.

In the capital, lawmakers and the attorney general's office argued over the results of last September's parliamentary election.

Members of parliament want to question Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Alako at their session on Saturday about the election and other issues. The attorney general's office said Tuesday that Alako would not show up to be questioned.

Lawmakers argue that the constitution permits them to question the attorney general. But Rahmatullah Nazari, the deputy attorney general, said that while the constitution states that they can question ministers, it does not give them permission to question officials, such as the attorney general, chief justice or governor of the central bank.

Nazari said the parliamentarians are pushing back against a special tribunal _ backed by President Hamid Karzai _ that is investigating allegations of election fraud.

"The special election court is nearly done with their job," Nazari said. "The members of parliament think the special court is going to make a decision that would force them to give up their seats so they are making problems for the attorney general."

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Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Kabul and Miwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.