UPDATE 1-Taliban ease mobile phone threat for Afghan summer

(Adds roadside bomb)

KABUL, April 26 (Reuters) - As the days lengthen towards summer in Afghanistan, so will the time locals can use their mobile phones without fear of Taliban retribution.

The Taliban told Afghan mobile phone operators in February to shut down networks from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. or face attack.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan use mobile phones to track insurgent fighters, they said, and to drive home the threat the Taliban have destroyed several phone towers in the south.

Some operators have cut night-time signals in some areas, causing resentment among residents for whom mobile phones are a vital means of communication.

Faced with an “unruly and irrational enemy ... the Islamic Emirate from time to time is bound by the circumstances and with great difficulty is obliged to take certain actions,” the Taliban said in a statement on their website on Saturday.

“As the nights are now shorter and the days longer, the Islamic Emirate ... permits the (telephone) companies to operate from 6:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the cities and surrounding areas.”

The Taliban largely rely on mobile and satellite phones for communication in their campaign to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.


They accuse international and Afghan forces of using the networks to track their fighters. Western and Afghan government officials say the Taliban move at night and want to stop villagers informing security forces of their whereabouts.

Four mobile phone operators, three of them foreign firms, with an estimated investment of several hundred million dollars have set up in Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The success of the mobile phone industry has been one of the few bright spots in a country that has attracted little foreign investment and has received less per capita aid than other countries emerging from conflict like Bosnia or East Timor.

The new military commander for international forces in eastern Afghanistan said this week he expected the Taliban to increase attacks on what he called softer civilian targets, including mobile phone companies, because they were severely mauled when they took on foreign or Afghan forces directly.

Afghan, NATO and U.S.-led troops have targeted Taliban commanders over the last year. Afghan police killed Mullah Ghazi Jan, a known leader of a group of insurgents in the province of Paktia, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

Three policemen were also killed and five wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the central province of Ghazni on Saturday, officials and witnesses told Reuters. (Editing by Robert Woodward)