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Cablegate: Update On Isaf Plan to Provide Cellular Telephone Service

VZCZCXRO4273
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #3166 2801241
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 071241Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1996
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7973

UNCLAS KABUL 003166

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EEB/CIP, S/SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/RA, SCA/A

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: ECPS EINV PGOV AF
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON ISAF PLAN TO PROVIDE CELLULAR TELEPHONE SERVICE
FROM FORWARD OPERATING BASES IN AFGHANISTAN

1. (SBU) Summary: The Embassy and ISAF are working together to
provide cellular telephone services from Forward Operating Bases
(FOBs) located in RC-South and RC-East. In RC-East, commercial
providers will have the opportunity to build towers on or near FOBs
under a pilot program. In RC-South, ISAF plans to contract an
American provider to construct a separate towers-on-wheels network
that will provide service to Afghan and U.S. Government officials as
well as PRT personnel. The RC-South plan, pending COMISAF approval,
will allow private telecommunications companies to provide
commercial service through the towers. End summary.

RC-East: Commercial Towers on U.S. FOBs
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) ISAF has offered to allow Roshan, Afghanistan's largest
telecom company, to build a pilot tower on or near FOB Paktika by
the end of 2009. ISAF chose Paktika for its lack of cellular
coverage, the provincial government's engagement on this issue and
the tenuous local security situation. Under the proposed pilot,
ISAF would provide residual security and Roshan would pay all other
costs for the tower's construction and upkeep.

3. (SBU) After a two-month trial period, Roshan and ISAF will
evaluate whether the tower's presence on the FOB results in
increased threats to Roshan's personnel and infrastructure. Post
will provide logistical support to Roshan's survey team and
interface with the Paktika governor. If the pilot program is
successful, ISAF and Roshan will consider further sites in RC-East.
While Roshan has expressed interest in initial, exclusive use of new
sites, Post will coordinate with ISAF to propose similar pilot
programs to other providers to ensure competitive access to the
FOBs. If the pilot is successful, the program may expand to FOBs
throughout Afghanistan.

RC-South: Towers-on-Wheels
--------------------------

4. (SBU) Attackers have destroyed dozens of cellular towers in the
south during 2009 to pressure cellular providers to turn off their
towers overnight. This challenging security situation requires a
different approach from the one applied in the more stable RC-East.
In this RC, ISAF plans to establish a secure government wireless
network managed under the auspices of government-owned Afghan
Telecom. The network would be primarily dedicated to emergency
response and as a command and control system for Afghan government
and military and security personnel. Due to Department of Defense
funding restrictions, ISAF will not own the towers, but will lease
them from a vendor on a one-year basis with a renewal option. This
contractor (most likely a U.S. company) will provide maintenance and
technical support and its staff will live and work on selected FOBs.
Because of the technological and logistical complexities involved,
U.S. military planners believe only a U.S. company will be able to
provide these services under Afghan Telecom's name. This service
should help to increase government legitimacy in the eyes of the
local population.

5. (SBU) Commercial cellular providers, as well as television and
radio networks, would be able to rent space on the towers from the
Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) for
their equipment, thereby providing commercial services to the
surrounding population. (Note: USFOR-A is seeking a legal opinion
on this possibility. End note)

6. (SBU) Since ISAF will only support the towers-on-wheels as long
as coalition forces need them, a handover plan is crucial for the
program's sustainability. Post is exploring different funding
options to purchase the towers and donate them to the Afghan
Government and/or local communities when ISAF no longer needs them.
We estimate the buyout cost at $4 to $5 million, depending on the
number of towers. This figure does not include maintenance
expenses, which would increase the cost significantly.

7. (SBU) ISAF is conducting a detailed assessment and cost analysis,
which it plans to complete by the end of October. COMISAF is
expected to approve the proposal by the end of November, followed by
a tender process and transport of the towers. The towers could be
operational in RC-South in the spring of 2010. We are not yet
certain of the number of towers to be installed because COMISAF has
not yet approved the initiative and its budget.

8. (SBU) Post and ISAF plan to meet jointly with Minister of
Communication and Information Technology Sangin to discuss relevant
details of this plan.

EIKENBERRY

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