Afghans rely on their cell phones to stay connected to the rest of the world as infrastructure in the nation, especially in rural areas, supports little other media. The Taliban has known this for a while, and as The New York Times reported on Wednesday, it's finally perfected a technique to use that reliance to exert control on the populous. It's moved from bombing cell phone towers to pressuring cell carriers to shut off service at regular intervals, signaling to people that the Taliban is still running things, The Times reports, and it's one of a new array of tactics that signal the fight in Afghanistan is turning toward a war over information, rather than territory:
Tactics like the cellphone offensive have allowed the Taliban to project their presence in far more insidious and sophisticated ways, using the instruments of modernity that they once shunned. The shutoff sends a daily reminder to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Afghans that the Taliban still hold substantial sway over their future.
In addition to the cell phone shutdowns, Taliban forces are using targeted attacks to take their fight to the cities, carrying out "limited but spectacular assaults" designed to dominate the media. The sense that the Taliban has been engaged in a media campaign has been kicking around for a while -- it got NATO engaged in a Twitter flame war after an attack last month -- and the lengthy and in-depth Times story neatly captures the implications of this new phase of the fight as U.S. forces look toward their departure.