GHAZNI, WASHINGTON - Taliban militants have ordered mobile phone companies to shut down their networks at dark in central Ghazni province, provincial police authorities told VOA.
In a bid to mitigate risks, the insurgent group has asked telecom operators in Ghazni province to halt operations from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to make it difficult for the Afghan forces to get intelligence and tips on militants through mobile phones.
The insurgent group has destroyed several telecom towers in the restive province over the last three days.
“The recent uptick in airstrikes against militants is causing increasing casualties in Taliban ranks. The militants want to destroy telecom towers to disturb communications,” Fahim Amarkhil, a police spokesperson in Ghazni told VOA.
The Taliban has said Afghan and U.S. forces use the network signals to locate the group’s fighters.
In addition to Ghazni, the insurgent group has asked mobile phone companies to halt their networks’ coverage in several other provinces as well, an official of a major cell phone company in Kabul told VOA on the condition of anonymity.
The official added that in many cases, the operators have no option but to comply with what the insurgents want.
The disruption in telecom services have angered customers in Ghazni who rely on mobile phone as their only means of communication. The residents fear that if the government does not address the issue in a timely manner, the telecom companies may end their operation in the province.
“Some time ago, the Taliban had warned the telecom companies to pay taxes to the Taliban, not to the government, and the issue was resolved,” Jamil Weqar, an activist in Ghazni told VOA. “But this time, they destroyed the towers which has created many problems [for customers],” he added.
The telecommunication sector in Afghanistan has made tremendous progress following the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of a new government in the post 2001 era. With little to no access to cell phones and the internet 15 years ago, the country now has more than 20 million mobile phone subscribers, covering more than 85 percent of the population.
The communication blackout comes as the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is increasing military pressure on militant groups across the country. The new plan includes a more intensive use of airpower against militants.
The latest official data shows U.S. forces dropped 751 bombs in September against the Taliban and militants linked to the so-called Islamic State terror group in Afghanistan. This is the largest number of bombs dropped on militants in a single month since 2012.
"This increase can be attributed to the president's strategy to more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people," according to a summary from the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command.
U.S.-backed Afghan forces are trying to regain control of areas and districts lost to the Taliban across the country.
The government has said it controls nearly two-thirds of the country's 407 districts. Taliban reportedly control 33 districts, less than 10 percent of the national total. Around 116 districts are "contested" areas, according to a recent U.S. military assessment.