Insurgents behead 17 Afghan civilians; two American soldiers killed

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Insurgents beheaded 17 people at a party in a Taliban-controlled area, and an Afghan soldier killed two U.S. troops, bringing the two-day death toll Monday to about 30.

The beheadings occurred in southern Helmand, the same province where more than 100 insurgents attacked an Afghan army checkpoint.

The two American soldiers were killed in eastern Laghman province. There were conflicting reports about whether the attack was intentional or accidental.

In Washington, a U.S. Defense Department official said the Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Americans, and that this seemed to indicate that it was an intentional act.

Noman Hatefi, a spokesman for the Afghan army corps in eastern Afghanistan, said a group of U.S. and Afghan soldiers came under an insurgent attack in Laghman province. He said the two Americans were killed when an Afghan soldier fell and accidentally discharged his weapon.

“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,” Hatefi said.

The U.S. troops had already called in air support to help with the insurgent attack and the aircraft fired on the escaping soldier, killing him.

There were also conflicting reports about the other violence.

In the beheadings, a local government official initially said the victims were civilians at a celebration late Sunday involving music and dancing in Helmand’s Musa Qala district. The official, Neyamatullah Khan, said the Taliban killed the partygoers for flouting the extreme brand of Islam embraced by the militants.

But 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.

The Taliban denied any responsibility for the attack, which was condemned by President Hamid Karzai, by the head of the U.S.-led NATO coalition, by the U.N. and by the European Union.

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