KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants attacked a police checkpoint in the south and killed 16 officers, officials said Monday. Seven Afghan police and soldiers were reported dead elsewhere as Afghanistan's bloodiest year since the Taliban's ouster drew to a close.
Violence in Afghanistan this year reached the highest level since the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban militant movement in 2001.
More than 6,500 people — mostly militants — died in 2007, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials. Also in 2007, 110 U.S. soldiers were killed in the country — the highest American toll since the 2001 invasion.
Afghan policemen were manning a checkpoint in the Maywand district of Kandahar province on Saturday when a large group of militants attacked, said Zemerai Bashary, the Interior Ministry spokesman.
"We still have not found the bodies, but police in Kandahar have launched a search operation," Bashary said.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the group was responsible for the killings.
The militants have repeatedly attacked the checkpoint — situated near Highway 1, Afghanistan's main thoroughfare — over the last year, part of the reason so many police were stationed there.
The acting police chief of Kandahar province, Omar Khan, said police were investigating and he couldn't give any details about the attack.
Taliban fighters have shied away from attacking international military forces and the Afghan army, which is better trained and better equipped than Afghan police.
More than 850 police officers have been killed in attacks since March — the beginning of the Islamic calendar — said Bashary. That represents more than 1 percent of the countrywide police force of some 73,000 officers.
In Uruzgan province, four Afghan soldiers were killed in a mine explosion Sunday, while one soldier was killed in Paktia province in another blast, the Ministry of Defense said.
In Helmand province, a roadside bomb exploded Monday against a police vehicle driving through Musa Qala, killing two officers, said Musa Qala district chief Haji Bir Mohammad.
Spain's King Juan Carlos, meanwhile, made an unannounced visit to Spanish troops based in western Afghanistan, the royal palace said.
In the country's west, Carlos traveled with the Spanish defense minister to the Spanish base in the city of Herat.
Spain has some 700 troops based in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force. The soldiers were first deployed in 2002.