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WASHINGTON -- Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan after walking away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to join the Army Rangers, U.S. officials said Friday.
He was 27.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a formal announcement was expected later in the day. Spokesmen at the Pentagon and U.S. Army declined comment.
Tillman was killed in direct action during a firefight in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, Pentagon sources told ABCNEWS.
A Pentagon source said that Tillman was killed when his Rangers patrol was attacked by small arms fire and mortars during a coordinated ambush.
Two U.S. soldiers were wounded and one enemy combatant was killed during the ambush. Tillman was the only U.S. soldier killed, Pentagon sources told ABCNEWS. His brother Kevin is in the same platoon.
Pat Tillman's battalion was involved in "Operation Mountain Storm," part of the U.S. campaign against Taliban and al-Qaida groups along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, military officials said.
Some members of the Army's elite Ranger units were taking part in the hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in southeastern Afghanistan, the military official said.
Although the military had not officially confirmed his death, the White House put out a statement of sympathy that praised Tillman as "an inspiration both on an off the football field."
Tillman played four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before enlisting in the Army in May 2002. The safety turned down a three-year, $3.6 million deal from Arizona.
He made the decision after returning from his honeymoon with his wife, Marie. Several of Tillman's friends also have said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks influenced his decision to enlist.
"He knew what was important to him, and he made his decision and stood by it," said quarterback Eli Manning, expected to be a top pick in Saturday's NFL draft.
Tillman's brother Kevin, a former minor league baseball prospect in the Cleveland Indians' organization, also joined the Rangers and served in the Middle East. They committed to three-year stints in the Army.
The Tillmans' goal to join the Rangers was not an easy one to achieve. Only 35 percent of all candidates get to wear the coveted black and gold Ranger Tab.
Some 110 U.S. soldiers have died -- 39 of them in combat -- during Operation Enduring Freedom, which began in Afghanistan in late 2001.
Tillman's agent, Frank Bauer, has called him a deep and clear thinker who has never valued material things.
In 2001, Tillman turned down a $9 million, five-year offer sheet from the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals, and by joining the Army he passed on millions more from the team.
Tillman turned aside interview requests after joining the Army. He had denied requests for media coverage of his enlistment, basic training and ultimate deployment. According to Army officials at the time, Tillman wanted no special treatment, wanted no special attention, but wanted to be considered just one of the soldiers doing his duty for his country.
In December, during a trip home, Tillman made a surprise visit to his Cardinal teammates.
"For all the respect and love that all of us have for Pat Tillman and his brother and Marie, for what they did and the sacrifices they made ... believe me, if you have a chance to sit down and talk with them, that respect and that love and admiration increase tenfold," then-Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said at the time. "It was a really, really enriching evening."
Pat was first deployed to Iraq in March 2003, with the 75th Regiment Ranger Battalion. Following a brief break, he was posted in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been battling pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban resistance since U.S.-led forces attacked the Central Asian nation in 2001
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Tillman was distinguished by his intelligence and appetite for rugged play. As an undersized linebacker at Arizona State, he was the Pac-10's defensive player of the year in 1997.
He set a franchise record with 224 tackles in 2000 and warmed up for last year's training camp by competing in a 70.2-mile triathlon in June.
Tillman carried a 3.84 grade point average through college and graduated with high honors in 3½ academic years with a degree in marketing.
"You don't find guys that have that combination of being as bright and as tough as him," Phil Snow, who coached Tillman as Arizona State's defensive coordinator, said in 2002. "This guy could go live in a foxhole for a year by himself with no food."
Tillman and his brother Kevin last year won the Arthur Ashe Courage award at the 11th annual ESPY Awards. Their younger brother, Richard, accepted the award while the brothers were away.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.