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Taliban “beheadings”…?

August 27, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Analytical caution needed over the “Taliban behead 17” story…

This story widely reported on today, from multiple sources, including the BBC and Reuters:

Seventeen civilians have been killed by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, reportedly for attending a party.

The bodies of two women and 15 men were found by the side of a road in the Musa Qala district.

They were either beheaded or had had their throats cut. Some showed signs of beatings or had gunshot wounds.

One of my current analytical themes is to suggest that, as ISAF and international coverage winds down, it will be increasingly difficult to collect information on events, developments, issues, etc.  My angle on this particular story would be to advise extreme caution, in the absence of any concrete information, before attributing the incident to anyone and, indeed assuming that the incident actually took place as reported.   There are many groups who will by default choose to blame this on the Taliban – Afghan local government and security forces, Afghan central government, ISAF, etc.  And it may be the case.  But, for one thing, attending mixed sex dancing parties is, to say the least, frowned upon by many more people in southern Afghanistan than just the Taliban.  There is very often a “story behind the story” to what seems to be a superficially obvious conclusion.  There are already suggestions that this was a result of two Taliban commanders in a dispute or that a village was being punished for having handed over Taliban fighters to the authorities.  Furthermore, this from Hares Kaker @graveyarddiary :

Contradictory reports about Helmand killings. Officials now say the civilians were shot dead by Taliban not beheaded…

…The area is under the Taliban control, so we can not send delegation for assessment: Daud Ahmadi, Helmand governor spokesman…

& Kajaki police chief Faizullah Akhundzada says he has no information about the killing. “I haven’t seen the dead bodies, i cant go there…

Afghanistan MoI first broke the story but local officials rely on their operatives who confirmed to them the killings…

So already the story is starting to look pretty flabby.

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