The head of the local government initially said the victims were civilians at a celebration late Sunday involving music and dancing in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province. The official, Neyamatullah Khan, said the Taliban killed the party-goers for flouting the extreme brand of Islam embraced by the militants.
However, a provincial government official said later that those killed were caught up in a fight between two Taliban commanders over two women, who were among the dead. Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said shooting broke out during the fight. He said it was unclear whether the music and dancing triggered the violence and whether the dead were all civilians or possibly included some fighters.
Ahmadi said all of the bodies were decapitated but it was not clear if they had been shot first.
In other violence, two American soldiers were shot and killed by one of their Afghan colleagues in the east, military officials said. Afghan officials said the killings appeared to be accidental, however NATO would not comment on the question of whether the killings were intentional or accidental.
The Taliban has controlled large parts of the district of Musa Qala, an area encompassing more than 100 villages, since 2001. They enforce the same strict interpretation of Islamic law that was imposed on all of Afghanistan during Taliban rule of Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
US Marines have battled the Taliban for years in Musa Qala, but the insurgent group still wields in significant power in the area as international forces across the country draw down and hand over control to Afghan forces. Helmand province, where Musa Qala is located, is one of the areas seeing the largest reduction in US troops. The US started reducing forces from a peak of nearly 103,000 last year, and plans to have 68,000 troops by October.
Many Afghans and international observers have expressed concerns that the Taliban will try to re-impose strict Islamic justice as international forces withdraw. Under the Taliban, 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.
The Taliban spokesman for southern Afghanistan could not be reached for comment on the beheadings.
As the drawdown progresses, there has been a surge in attacks by Afghan forces against their international allies.
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