In Afghanistan, cell phones double as C2 systems

HONOLULU — In Afghanistan, cellular telephone networks double as command and control (C2) systems and can make the difference between life and death, according to Jim Craft, deputy chief information officer of the Marine Corps.

Before taking his current job less than a month ago, Craft spent a year as the State Department's senior telecommunications adviser in Afghanistan, helping the government there develop an information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, that included cell phones.

During that year, the number of cell phone companies in the Afghanistan increased from two to four, and the country now boasts 20 internet service providers, Craft said here at the annual AFCEA TechNet Asia-Pacific conference.

Afghanistan's infantry battalions use the cell phone networks for C2 applications, Craft said. The Taliban do as well, he added, but “that’s OK…we figured out how to catch bad fish in a digital sea.”

Craft said having a cell phone saved him from a life-or-death situation once. While working in a remote area, he received a warning of an attack on that location, so he was able to move out before it occurred.

The communications infrastructure he helped develop during his tour in Afghanistan included basic phone systems and cellular networks, and wireless broadband networks using short-range Wi-Fi and long-range WiMax technology.

ICT is a powerful tool in the war on terrorism, Craft said, and he urged companies to invest in it. Besides providing Afghanistan with powerful new tools, ICT is the single largest private sector contributor to the country’s budget.

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