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updated: 8/27/2012 6:41 AM

Taliban behead 17 Afghans in southern militant stronghold

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Bloomberg News

aliban militants opened fire and then beheaded 17 Afghan civilians, including two women, in the southern province of Helmand, the government said.

The Ministry of Interior Affairs condemned in a statement the "inhumane and cowardly act" Sunday that it said occurred in the region's Kajaki district. The victims had gathered for a celebration and were listening to music and dancing when the attack took place, the Associated Press reported, citing provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. The area is under Taliban control, the news agency said, making it hard to gather details. AP said the killings were in Helmand's Musa Qala district.

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Helmand is a militant stronghold where Taliban insurgents yesterday also killed 10 Afghan soldiers in an attack. In other violence, an Afghan soldier shot dead two members of the NATO force in the country's east, the latest in a series of so-called "insider attacks" that have cast a shadow over the transition of security duties to local troops.

The Taliban regime ousted by U.S. forces following the Sept. 11 attacks banned music, games and other forms of entertainment during its five years in power. The movement interpreted Islamic law as banning women from work and school and requiring them to wear the burqa in public.

Killings of Western troops by Afghan forces have raised questions about a U.S. strategy that depends on training and developing the Afghan army and police so that coalition combat troops can leave by the end of 2014.

There have been more than 40 insider killings so far this year, including about a dozen in the past month, compared with 35 in all of 2011, according to the International Security Assistance Force.

General John Allen, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, said this month that the attacks won't disrupt his strategy or require pulling troops from patrols with Afghan forces.

The general indicated Aug. 23 he doesn't agree with an assertion by the Afghan government that spy agencies from other countries were behind most of the attacks.

"I'm looking forward to Afghanistan providing us with the intelligence that permits them to come to that conclusion," Allen said. U.S. officials have attributed most of the episodes to personal grievances and stress on Afghan forces.

About 25 percent of the attacks stem from Taliban insurgents who infiltrate and impersonate Afghan forces or who coerce Afghan soldiers to turn against the coalition, Allen said.

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