Taliban fighters have seized control of a strategic district in the Afghan province of Ghazni, officials say.
Insurgents killed about 70 villagers after taking Ajrestan district late on Thursday night after a week of battle.
A spokesman for the provincial governor said 15 people suspected of collaborating with authorities were beheaded, including women.
The Taliban is active in many parts of Ghazni, an important gateway to the capital, Kabul, from the south-east.
Fighting is continuing as security forces try to regain the district but officials fear surrounding districts are now vulnerable to attack.
Some analysts say that control of Ajrestan also provides militants with a launching pad for attacks into adjacent provinces in the east of the country.
Ajrestan is a small town surrounded by about 100 villages in a predominantly rural area.
Earlier this month militants killed 10 people when they attacked a government compound in Ghazni.
The fall of the district comes days before Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani is due to be inaugurated.
He secured the position after striking a unity deal in which runner-up Abdullah Abdullah will nominate someone to a post similar to that of prime minister.
The power-sharing deal was announced last week after months of tension following disputed presidential elections.
Foreign combat forces are set to withdraw troops by the end of 2014 with control being transferred to Afghan national forces.
The Afghan army has seen a rise in the number of casualties as it increasingly takes over the battle against Taliban militants from US-led foreign troops.
The US has said that it hopes a key bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan can be signed in the coming weeks.