The deaths of the two Americans in Laghman province, in eastern Afghanistan, followed a grimly familiar script: The attack was set off by an argument between Afghan soldiers and their U.S. counterparts, according to Sarhadi Zewak, a provincial spokesman. The NATO force confirmed the deaths of two Western troops at the hands of an Afghan National Army soldier, but provided no other details.
Twelve Americans have died in insider shootings this month, the largest monthly tally of the war. Last week, the U.S. commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, said the fasting month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims do not eat or drink between dawn and dusk, might have played a part in the upsurge in such attacks. These are the first such shootings since the end of Ramadan.
In all, 42 coalition members have died in insider attacks this year, the NATO force says.
The separate deadly incidents in Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, illustrated other troubling patterns: attacks on members of the Afghan security forces in which comrades may have played a part, and punishment meted out to civilians deemed to have violated the Taliban's harsh code of social conduct, particularly where interactions between men and women are concerned.
The 17 people killed Sunday night in a private home in Helmand's Musa Qala district -- two of them women, the rest men, according to Afghan officials -- had been listening to music and dancing, said Neymatullah Khan, the district chief. According to some Afghan reports, the victims were beheaded, but provincial authorities described the area as being under Taliban control, making it difficult to confirm details.
The Interior Ministry confirmed the 17 civilian deaths, calling them "unforgivable and shameful" but said they had taken place in an adjoining district, Kajaki, instead of Musa Qala. Borders between Afghan districts and provinces are often poorly delineated.
Circumstances were also murky regarding an attack late Sunday or early Monday on an army checkpoint in Helmand's Washir district, which left 10 Afghan soldiers dead, four wounded and the whereabouts of five unknown.
Provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said it was initially believed that the five missing men were Taliban infiltrators who had orchestrated the attack, but subsequently said the five had simply fled the scene and taken refuge in nearby army posts.
However, local officials said the men had either defected to the Taliban or been abducted, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
-- Laura King