Taliban orders mobile shutdown in Afghan province

A boy speaks on a mobile phone as he stands in front of a ruined house in Kabul August 6, 2008. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents said Tuesday they had told mobile phone operators to shut down their networks during the day in the Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, saying signals help track insurgent fighters.

The warning comes on top of a Taliban order earlier this year for phone operators to turn off their networks throughout the country at night.

“We have informed mobile companies operating in Ghazni to turn off their signals during the daytime now as it endangers the lives of our fighters,” Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman told Reuters.

“We want the companies to cut off their signal for 10 days from now,” he said, adding that the order might be extended.

Five mobile operators, three of them foreign companies, with an estimated investment of several hundred million of dollars, have set up business in Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Taliban insurgents in the past have destroyed several mobile phone towers in the south causing resentment among residents for whom mobile phones are a vital means of communication.

The night-time shutdown has been only partially enforced in the south and most networks continue to operate freely in the more peaceful north of the country.

NATO and Afghan officials say the Taliban want mobile phone networks shut down to prevent villagers informing the authorities of their presence.

Ghazni, just two hours’ drive southwest of Kabul, was regarded as safe two years ago, but Taliban militants have infiltrated into the area and now set up regular road blocks along the main highway, destroying supply trucks and intimidating drivers.

Reporting by Sher Ahmad; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Alex Richardson