KABUL, Afghanistan (The Blaze/AP) — The Taliban have beheaded 17 civilians in southern Afghanistan, apparently because they attended a dance party in defiance of the extreme brand of Islam embraced by the militants, officials said Monday.
The killings, in a district where U.S. Marines have battled the Taliban for years, are 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, leaving the bodies of 15 men and two women in a house near the Musa Qala district.
“The victims threw a late-night dance and music party when the Taliban attacked,” district governor Nimatullah told Reuters.
All of the bodies were decapitated but it was not clear if they were shot first, provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said.
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 U.S. 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.
Back in June, according to Reuters, Taliban insurgents stormed a hotel near Kabul that hosted “wild parties,” demanding to know where the “prostitutes and pimps” were. 20 people were killed in the attack.
Also accompanying the drawdown in international forces has been a surge in attacks by Afghan forces against their international allies.
Two American soldiers were shot and killed Monday morning 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. Today’s killing, however, is being reported as an accident.
Insider attacks have been a problem for the U.S.-led military coalition for years, but it has exploded recently into a crisis. There have been at least 33 such attacks so far this year, killing 42 coalition members, mostly Americans. Last year there were 21 attacks, killing 35; and in 2010 there were 11 attacks with 20 deaths.
The chief spokesman for NATO forces in the country said coalition forces were not pulling back from collaborating with the Afghans because of the attacks.
“We are not going to reduce the close relationship with our Afghan partners,” Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz told reporters in the capital.