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Taliban checkpoint attack kills 19 soldiers

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban insurgents assaulted a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, leaving 19 soldiers dead and seven missing, officials said. It was the deadliest single incident for the Afghan army in at least a year.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and postponed a planned trip to Sri Lanka.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, who is spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said there were “hundreds” of foreign and Afghan insurgents involved in the attack, which took place in the Ghazi Abad district of Kunar Province in the early morning hours.

He confirmed that 19 soldiers were killed and two wounded following a four-hour gun battle between the insurgents and the army. An army support unit en route to assist the operation also was targeted by a suicide bomber, he said, but there were no military casualties.

Azimi added that an investigation and search and rescue operation is underway.

Abdul Ghani Musamem, spokesman for the governor of Kunar Province, said seven soldiers were missing following the attack. It was not immediately clear if the soldiers had been kidnapped or had fled during the assault.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack in an emailed statement, saying that one of their insurgents was killed and two were wounded.

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