Taliban's New Muscle Flexing: Cell Phone Outages
Awaiting US exit, they fight mind games
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2011 9:38 AM CDT
An Afghan cell phone seller writes a receipt, to one of his soldier customer, as he chats with another customer, not seen, in the city of Kabul, Feb. 25, 2008.   (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

(Newser) – Every evening like clockwork, all the cell phones in Afghanistan's Wardrak Province stop working—and every resident knows why. The Taliban have taken to shutting off cell towers all across Afghanistan, threatening to blow them up if operators don’t cooperate, the New York Times reports. “Our main goal is to degrade the enemy’s capability in tracking down our mujahedeen,” a Taliban spokesman says. But many believe they have another goal as well: To remind Afghans who's in charge.

Indeed, the Taliban’s wider strategy appears to have changed from holding territory to holding mindshare. The attack on the US embassy and assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, for example, were designed to draw media coverage—NATO commanders call them “IO victories,” meaning “information operations." At the same time, the Taliban is moderating its message, depicting itself as flexible on issues like education. “They are shifting to deal with the population,” US Ambassador Ryan Crocker observed recently, adding that it could “ultimately be a positive.”
 

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