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Taliban attack kills at least 19 Afghan troops

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February 21, 2014: Afghan security forces personnel arrive at the site of a suicide bombing at a police compound in Surobi district of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

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 dead and two injured following a four-hour gunbattle 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.

Karzai appeared to point a finger at Pakistan, calling on the government in Islamabad to take on the fight against terrorism.

He said in a statement that Pakistan must take serious measures to destroy terrorist sanctuaries.

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

The Taliban have escalated attacks in recent months as they try to take advantage of the withdrawal of foreign troops at the end of 2014. Casualties among Afghan troops have been rising significantly since they took the lead in the war against the Taliban.

Since the beginning of 2014, 84 Afghan army soldiers have been killed.