Officials in Afghanistan say that 17 civilians, including two women, have been beheaded in the southern Helmand Province’s Kajaki district.
The discovery comes on a particularly grim day, with 10 Afghan troops killed and two NATO soldiers shot dead in separate attacks, also in Afghanistan.
The civilians, including two women, were apparently beheaded overnight on August 26 near the village of Zamindawar in southern Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold.
Helmand provincial government spokesman Daud Ahmadi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the insurgents appeared to have been seeking to punish the villagers for allegedly urging local people to stage an uprising against militants.
"These 15 civilian and two women were killed allegedly for having contact with the government," Ahmadi said. "The enemy is afraid, because people are increasingly rising up against them and people want them to leave their areas. I think [the people's] plans were discovered."
Ahmadi said it remained unclear who was behind the slayings.
Some news agencies quoted local officials as saying the victims were punished for holding a mixed-gender music party.
Nematullah Khan, chief of nearby Musa Qala district, said the villagers had organized a party with music, and one local official said he suspected the two women had been dancing.
The Taliban, who are active in the area, have in the past been blamed for decapitating local villagers, mainly over charges of collaborating with Afghan and NATO forces.
News agencies quoted a tribal elder as saying the area has seen a surge in beheadings in recent months, and that at least three villagers were beheaded during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Afghan Troops Targeted Elsewhere
In a separate incident in Helmand, 10 Afghan soldiers were reported killed in an attack on a checkpoint.
Officials said four soldiers were wounded in the overnight attack, in Washir district on August 26. Five missing soldiers apparently left with their assailants. It was unclear if they were kidnapped or went voluntarily.
Officials said the attack appeared to be an "insider" plot in which some army soldiers helped Taliban militants attack the post.
...Along With NATO In 'Green On Blue' Attack
NATO, meanwhile, said two of its soldiers were shot dead on August 27 in a new "green-on-blue," or insider, attack by an Afghan army soldier.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said a member of the Afghan National Army turned his weapon on ISAF forces in eastern Laghman Province, killing the two troops.
ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Guenter Katz told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan soldier was shot dead.
"The shooter has been killed, an investigation is going on, and this is all I can say for the time being in terms of that incident," Katz said.
The latest deaths take the toll from such attacks in August to at least 12, bringing the total to more than 40 so far this year.
Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks, saying militants had infiltrated NATO-led forces.
NATO officials have said infiltration could be a reason for the attacks, but have also suggested that stress and poor personal relations between NATO and Afghan allies could be factors.
With additional reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters