American forces are increasingly being drawn back into the fight, even though President Obama declared an end to the combat mission last fall. Last year, 22 American military personnel were killed in Afghanistan, half of the deaths classified as " hostile. " U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan walk away from a helicopter at Forward Operating Base Connelly in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Aug. 13. The U.S. formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of last year. But nearly 10,000 American troops remain in the country and the U.S. frequently carries out air sorties. Fourteen American military personnel have died in Afghanistan this year. McClintock, the first American to be killed this year, was with his fellow Green Berets when they went to Marjah, in Helmand province, a town grimly familiar to American troops. Dozens of Marines were killed there five years ago, and since then the Taliban have slipped back in. So the Americans once again came to help. In the gun battle that killed McClintock on Tuesday, two other Americans were wounded, along with three Afghan troops. "They are forward deployed with Afghan commando units and they are very much in the thick of these fights," says retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, who once led U.S. forces in Afghanistan and now teaches at American University. "Special operations forces are going to be in the thick of this coming battle whether we want to talk about that or not." But administration officials choose their words carefully when they talk about it. Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, 30, of Des Moines, Wash., was killed on Tuesday in Helmand province's Marjah district. That's because in October, President Obama insisted America's combat mission was over and Afghan troops were now in the lead. "Our forces therefore remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions," he said, "training Afghan forces and supporting a counterterrorism mission against the remnants of al-Qaida." Al-Qaida — not the Taliban. But it appears that training mission is becoming more of a partnering effort with Afghan forces battling Taliban fighters. And that makes things more difficult for officials like Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. When asked if the combat mission continues for American troops, he said they were in harm's way.