KANDAHAR, Afghanistan // Seventeen party-goers, including two women dancers, have been beheaded by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province.
The punishement killings recalled the darkest days of rule by the ultra-conservative Islamist insurgents before they were toppled in 2001.
The bodies were found yesterday in a house near the Musa Qala district, where a party had been held on Sunday night with music and mixed-sex dancing, said the district governor, Nimatullah.
Men and women do not usually mingle in Afghanistan unless they are related. Parties involving both genders are rare and kept secret.
The killings, about 75 kilometres north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, came at the beginning of a violent 24 hours for Nato and Afghan authorities. Ten Afghan soldiers were killed in a mass insurgent attack, also in Helmand, and two US soldiers were slain by a rogue Afghan soldier.
“The victims threw a late-night dance and music party when the Taliban attacked” on Sunday night, said Nimatullah, who only has one name. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
During their five-year reign, which was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces, sparking the present Nato-led war, the Taliban banned women from voting, most work and leaving their homes unless accompanied by their husband or a male relative.
Though those rights have been painstakingly regained, Afghanistan remains one of the worst places on Earth to be a woman. Some freedoms have also been wound back in what rights groups fear is an effort to reach a political reconciliation and possible power-sharing deal with the Taliban.
In June, Taliban gunmen stormed a lakeside hotel near Kabul asking where the “prostitutes and pimps” were, witnesses said. Twenty people were killed. The Taliban said they launched the attack on Qarga Lake because the hotel was being used for “wild parties”.
Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand governor, said a team had been sent to the site of beheadings to investigate.
In another setback for Nato, an Afghan soldier shot dead two US soldiers in east Afghanistan yesterday, the latest in a series of insider killings.
“ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] troops returned fire, killing the ANA [Afghan National Army] soldier who committed the attack,” said the Nato-led ISAF.
The deaths in Laghman province brought to 12 the number of foreign soldiers killed this month, prompting Nato to increase security against insider attacks, including requiring soldiers to carry loaded weapons at all times on base.
US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey visited Kabul last week to discuss the rogue shootings and urge Afghan officials to take tougher preventative action.
There have been 33 insider attacks this year, resulting in 42 coalition deaths. During the whole of last year, 35 coalition troops were killed in such attacks.
The chief coalition spokesman, German Brigadier-General Gunter Katz, said the shootings would not prompt any scaling down of vital cooperation or training with Afghan police and soldiers to curtail more shootings. “We are not going to reduce the close relationship with our Afghan partners,” he said.
Afghanistan’s government said on Wednesday it would re-examine the files of 350,000 soldiers and police, but accused “foreign spies” of instigating the rogue shootings.
Nato commanders have played down the threat of infiltration, blaming most of the shootings on stress or personal differences, but Brig Gen Katz said commanders now believed 10 per cent of attacks had a direct Taliban infiltration link, while 15 per cent were suspected of having insurgent involvement.