- Associated Press - Sunday, August 7, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan — The 30 American service members — most of them elite Navy SEALs — who died when their helicopter was shot down had rushed to help Army Rangers under fire, two U.S. officials said Sunday.

The heavy loss shows that covert tactics carry huge risks despite the huge success of the SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden more than three months ago. Some of the SEALs who died Saturday were from the same unit that killed bin Laden, although none of the men took part in that mission.

The U.S.-led coalition plans to rely more on special-operations missions as it reduces the overall number of combat troops by the end of 2014.

Over the weekend, the rescue team had subdued attackers who had pinned down the Rangers and were departing in their Chinook helicopter when the aircraft was apparently hit, one of the officials said.

Thirty Americans and eight Afghans were killed in the crash, making it the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The Rangers, special-operations forces who work regularly with the SEALs, secured the crash site in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak province, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, the other official said.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the event, as the investigation is still ongoing. NATO was recovering the remains of the twin rotor Chinook helicopter.

A current and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force combat controllers, a dog handler and his dog. Eight Taliban fighters were also killed in the battle, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Afghanistan has more U.S. special-operations troops, about 10,000, than any other theater of war. The forces, often joined by Afghan troops, are among the most effective weapons in the coalition’s arsenal, conducting surveillance, infiltration and capture missions and night raids.

From April to July this year, 2,832 special-operations raids captured 2,941 insurgents and killed 834, twice as many as during the same time period last year, according to NATO.

SEALs, Rangers, and other special-operations troops are expected to be the vanguard of the American military effort in Afghanistan as international military forces start pulling out. By the time combat troops plan to have left the country, the coalition will have handed control of security to the Afghan forces they have spent tens of billions of dollars arming and training.

Special-operations troops are expected to remain in the country after 2014 for counterterrorism missions and advisory support. Just how many will remain has not yet been negotiated with the Afghan government, but the United States is considering from 5,000 to 20,000, far fewer than the 100,000 U.S. troops there now.