Kunar residents denounce ISIS for continuing telecom network shutdown

By Khalid Zerai

A lack of telecom service in three Kunar Province districts has created hardship for local residents. A telecom tower is shown in Watapur District May 22. [Khalid Zerai]

A lack of telecom service in three Kunar Province districts has created hardship for local residents. A telecom tower is shown in Watapur District May 22. [Khalid Zerai]

KUNAR -- "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) militants have intimidated telecom firms into shutting off telecom service in three districts of Kunar Province for the past month, inflicting misery and inconvenience on the residents.

Insurgents throughout Afghanistan have in the past disrupted telecom services in retaliation for counter-insurgency operations and to punish locals whom the insurgents consider supportive of the government.

While the public languishes without phone service, militants resort to radios and other forms of communication.

By vowing to "burn down towers and kill the towers' guards" if telecom firms do not co-operate, ISIS has accomplished the shutdown of telecom services "in Manogi and Chapa Dara districts", Sayed Ahmad Madad, director of Kunar Province's telecom and information technology department, told Salaam Times.

"Some areas of Watapur District" have lost telecom service too as intimidated firms shut off their signal, he added.

Before ISIS's campaign of threats, the MTN, Salaam and Afghan Wireless networks were active in these districts.

"This is a big issue. We have informed our headquarters about it, and we are trying to solve it," Madad said.

"We have invited tribal elders to go to the districts and to make efforts to reactivate these networks," Abdul Ghani Musamim, spokesman for the governor of Kunar Province, told Salaam Times.

"ISIS is a terrorist network, and it always wants to harass civilians and kill them," he said. "It is a cruel group. It ignores civilians' difficulties and ... continues its cruelty."

Making problems for civilians

Waheedullah, 35, a resident of the Sandray area of Manogi District, explained the time and cost required now to make a formerly simple phone call.

"Yesterday I was at home," he told Salaam Times May 18. "I wanted to discuss something important with someone in Kabul, but the telephone was not working in our district. I went to Watapur District, but it was not working there either. So I was forced to come to Asadabad, the provincial capital, where I could make the call."

"I spent 200 AFN ($1.73) to reach [Asadabad]," he said. "I spent more for food. It was already evening when I started going home."

"See how difficult it is?" he continued. "What does ISIS want us to do? It is enough that it kills civilians and fought wars -- it shouldn't harass us anymore."

Sabir Jan, 28, a resident of Chapa Dara District, was in Asadabad to buy groceries for his family but unable to stay informed about any changing needs.

"I have no news from my home," he told Salaam Times. "Before, I could call ... but now I have a problem. [My family] might need more items at home ... once I go home and find out, I'll have to come back."

"You see progress [outside Afghanistan], but we are going backward," he said. "What's going on is cruel. What can we do? Where can we go?"

Operations against ISIS

Meanwhile, the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), local police and coalition forces have been carrying out operations against ISIS, said Faridullah Dehqan, spokesman for Kunar Police.

"Important commanders and leaders of ISIS were killed in Kunar," he told Salaam Times. "Most of them were killed in [NATO coalition] air attacks."

"ISIS cannot resist here; it can only conduct guerrilla attacks and disturb civilians, but we do not let ISIS remain here," he said.

"We will continue our operations against it," Dehqan said.

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