KABUL, Afghanistan — 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 terrorists, officials said Monday.
The killings, in a district where U.S. 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 troops.
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.
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, which 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 relative as an escort.
Helmand is one of the areas seeing the largest reduction in U.S. troops, as the force surge ordered up by President Obama departs. The United States started drawing down troops 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 fatally shot by one of their Afghan colleagues in the east, military officials said, bringing to 12 the number of American troops to die at the hands of their local allies this month.
But Afghan officials said Monday’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 U.S. 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.
“He didn’t do this intentionally. But then the commander of the [Afghan] unit started shouting at him, ‘What did you do? You killed two NATO soldiers!’ And so he threw down his weapon and started to run,” Mr. Hatefi added.
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