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More Afghan Electricity Towers Destroyed, Raising Fears Of New Battle Tactic

An electric line between Tajikistan and Afghanistan damaged by the Taliban in Baghlan Province on February 11.
An electric line between Tajikistan and Afghanistan damaged by the Taliban in Baghlan Province on February 11.

The Afghan government has sent a team of specialists to a northern province to repair electricity pylons blown up as fighting raged between security forces and Taliban insurgents.

With the capital, Kabul, already facing blackouts since late January due to the destruction of several other electricity-transmission towers elsewhere in Baghlan Province, Baghlan officials announced on February 10 that the Taliban had destroyed at least one more tower, near Dahana-e Ghuri.

The recent power cuts raise concerns that militants might have stumbled across a new tactic in their persistent efforts to oppose the Afghan central government.

Speaking to RFE/RL by telephone from Dahana-e Ghuri, Ahad Barekzai, the head of the team of specialists, said that "if everything goes according to plan, we hope to reconnect power lines in this area in the next day or two."

"Security forces are cooperating with us in this area," Barekzai added. "If government forces provide security, we don't have any technical problem restoring [the pylon]."

Barekzai pointed out, however, that even if power lines in Dahana-e Ghuri are restored, it will "improve the power situation in Kabul" but won't fully resolve the problem.

The towers in Dahana-e Ghuri deliver electricity to Takhar, Baghlan, and Parwan provinces, as well as to Kabul, Barekzai said.

The national electricity company, Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirkat (DABS), said it was unable to begin repair works at the site of the first tower blasts, in Dand-e Shahabuddin, until the area is cleared of militants and land mines. That location is a major supplier of electricity to the capital.

"If security is ensured, it would take us several hours to reconnect the electricity supply lines," Wahidullah Tawhidi, a DABS spokesman, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

The government has blamed the Taliban for sabotaging major power lines that deliver electricity from neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The Taliban, however, denied responsibility for blowing up the pylons.

Kabul's 5 million or so inhabitants are used to rationing and frequent power cuts that often last several hours, especially during winter.

However, the latest blackouts mark some of the worst the capital has seen since the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Electricity is a main source for heating and cooking for many Kabul residents, who now get as little as three hours of electricity a day in some areas.

The poor tend to be hardest hit by cutoffs, in part because many of the Afghan households that can afford them have their own power generators. Kabulis also resort to lanterns, gas-powered lamps, and candles.

"We use coal for heating and cooking," one Kabul resident said. "We get three hours of electricity a day, and when it comes we quickly try to do things that are impossible without electricity, such as ironing clothes, charging phones, and using the washing machine."

"I haven't even been able to charge my phone for the past two days," a young Kabul resident told Radio Free Afghanistan. "I really want our government to solve this problem as soon as possible."

In the meantime, a group of tribal elders and local activists from Baghlan arrived in Kabul on February 10 demanding that the government reach a cease-fire to end clashes in their province.

They said the clashes of the past three weeks have affected some 30,000 civilians.

Khairullah Shinwari, a Baghlan activist, told reporters in Kabul that 125 civilians, including women and children, had been killed and some 650 others injured in "indiscriminate firings."

Shinwari said the clashes have forced around 17,000 civilians from their homes.

The Baghlanis have demanded that the government prevent civilian casualties and provide humanitarian aid and compensation for those affected.

Separately, a group of Baghlan tribal elders are set to meet with Taliban commanders in an effort to ensure security from the militants' end for specialists to repair the downed pylons.

In Dahana-e Ghuri, the team from Kabul was racing to finish repair work to take advantage of relative calm provided by security forces.

"All people need electricity, regardless of what side they are," said Barekzai, the team leader. "We hope government and Taliban leaders make it possible for us to do our work to restore electricity for everyone, the rich and poor, those who desperately need it in hospitals, schools, and mosques."

With additional reporting by RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents in Kabul