KABUL: Insurgents beheaded 17 civilians in a Taliban-controlled area of southern Afghanistan, apparently because they attended a dance party that flouted the extreme brand of Islam embraced by the militants, officials said today.
The killings, in a district where US Marines have battled the Taliban for years, were a reminder of how much power the insurgent group still wields in the south — particularly as international forces draw down and hand areas over to Afghan forces. The victims were part of a large group that had gathered late Sunday in Helmand province’s Musa Qala district for a celebration involving music and dancing, said district government chief Neyamatullah Khan. He said the Taliban slaughtered them to show their disapproval of the event. All of the bodies were decapitated but it was not clear if they had been shot first, said provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi.
Information was only trickling out slowly because the area where the killings occurred is largely Taliban controlled, Khan said. The Taliban spokesman for southern Afghanistan could not be reached for comment.
Many Afghans and international observers have expressed worries that the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Islamic justice will return as international forces withdraw. Under the Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, all music and film was banned as un-Islamic, and women were barred from leaving their homes without a male family member as an escort.
Helmand is one of the areas seeing the largest reduction in US troops, as the force increase ordered up by President Barack Obama departs. The U.S. started drawing down forces from a peak of nearly 103,000 last year, and plans to have decreased to 68,000 troops in country by October.
One of the most worrying trends to accompany the drawdown has been a surge in attacks by Afghan forces against their international allies, and another shooting came on Monday morning, though it appeared to be accidental.
Two American soldiers were shot and killed by one of their Afghan colleagues in the east, military officials said, bringing to 12 the number of international troops — all Americans — to die at the hands of their local allies this month.
But Afghan officials said today’s attack in Laghman province was a separate case from the rash of recent insider attacks on international forces, because it appeared to have been unintentional.
The incident unfolded when a group of US and Afghan soldiers came under attack, said Noman Hatefi, a spokesman for the Afghan army corps in eastern Afghanistan. When the troops returned fire and ran to take up fighting positions, an Afghan soldier fell and accidentally discharged his weapon, killing two American soldiers with the stray bullets, he said.