By Jim LeMay, CNN
Editor's note: Jim LeMay is the CNN Weekend Managing editor. He is from a long established military family with six relatives currently serving in the U.S. armed forces around the world. He is a graduate of the New Mexico Military Institute and worked as a news videographer in a number of war-torn countries. He currently serves with the Georgia State Defense Force on a search and rescue team and volunteers his time at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
(CNN) - The loss of the 22 Navy SEALs is jaw dropping.
They were among 30 U.S. troops killed when a helicopter went down this weekend in the most deadly single incident for American forces since the Afghan war began nearly 10 years ago. More than 1,500 U.S. servicemen and women have died in the conflict. Each of these deaths is every bit as tragic as what happened Saturday.
What sets this incident apart is the combat role of the SEALs and the esteem in which they are held, especially in military circles.
The embedding of journalists in fighting units has put a face on this war and brought the solider experience home - but the SEALs, who specialize in covert operations, don't allow embedded journalists.
So look at it this way: What if we had lost 22 NFL players with half of them being Heisman trophy winners? Or think if we had lost 22 major league baseball players? There's a direct correlation because professional athletes are good examples of the kind of elite status bestowed on the SEALs.
By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
The 38 troops and support killed when their helicopter was shot down in Wardak province were part of a mission to go after a known Taliban leader directly responsible for attacks against American troops, two US military officials have told CNN. The team, including 22 SEALs, special operations forces from other services, seven Afghan commandos and a civilian translator, had been called in to assist members of the 75th Army Ranger regiment on the ground pinned down in a firefight, according to a senior US military official.
The officials did not know if the Taliban leader had been killed. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of ongoing operations in the crash area.
Coalition forces remain in the area because a decision has been made to physically remove the entire wreckage from the scene in an effort to keep insurgent forces from taking photos and using the wreckage as a 'propaganda tool," one official said. Investigators will be examining the wreckage but he indicated the crash was so catastrophic there may be little they can learn. The US had specific reports of enemy weapons activity in the direct area at the time of the crash, so a shootdown remains the working assumption of what happened.
One of the officials also said while the Chinook helicopter has been described as a 'conventional" aircraft, it did have all the latest electronic equipment and the crew had special operations training
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By CNN's Adam Levine
The circumstances surrounding the shooting down of the Chinook are still murky but what is known is that it ended with the deadliest day yet for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The death toll by Saturday evening was at 30, including more than two dozen special operations forces.
The troops were en route to help another unit pinned down by enemy fire in eastern Afghanistan, and the belief is that it was enemy fire that took down the Chinook that carried the elite forces, according to sources.
Of the special operations forces killed, 22 were Navy SEALs. Many were fellow forces of the elite team that took down Osama bin Laden. As much as bin Laden's killing was a high point for the covert troops, Saturday's devastation is yet another painful chapter in the lives lost by U.S. and NATO forces over the last 10 years.
Working below the radar, special forces are a key part of the U.S. mission with scant attention or publicity. Special Operations run about a dozen missions a night in Afghanistan, according to Eric Olson, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, making
rare public comments at an event last month.