Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can you hear me now? Not in Afghanistan

Reuters reported on the shutdown of all cell phone service in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.  In Afghanistan there is very little in the way of infrastructure and next to no land line phones, as a result, almost all telephone communication is done by cell phones.  This is not just an inconvenience, a large section of the country is without and phone service at all due to the Taliban orders.  I'm thinking that this might be a glaring neon sign that we are nowhere close to being ready to hand over security duties to the Afghanistan national forces.

It seems that western intelligence listens in on the cell phone calls made and uses this to gather intelligence on the Taliban.  The Taliban, of course, don't like this and have at different times done this before for short periods or in selected areas.  This is the first time it has lasted so long over such a large area.The cell phone company has complied with the Taliban demand because in the past when they didn't comply their equipment was blown up.  According the the cell phone company, AWCC, they do not feel protected by the government and would rather give in to the Taliban than have $100,000 cell phone towers destroyed.

As a comparison, imagine an area about the size of South Carolina with no phone coverage.  This shows just how weak and ineffective the current government is and how little security the NATO force on the ground can provide.  Not much information about Afghanistan is hitting the news lately with all of the other hotspots flaring up, but I think this is very telling.  Combine this with reports of mass defections from the national security forces and it looks pretty bleak.  It looks like the Karzai government is a paper tiger.

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