Allen also acknowledged -- crucially -- that the original target of Saturday's raid, an unnamed militant suspected of being the senior Taliban commander in the Tangi Valley, managed to escape and remains at large.
“Did we get the leader that we were going after in the initial operation?” Allen said. “No, we did not.”
Even if U.S. forces had killed that insurgent leader, however, it is debatable whether it would have been a turning point for the fight in eastern Afghanistan, let alone for the entire war.
The number of targeted raids by SEALs and other Special Operations personnel has escalated sharply, and U.S. officials estimate those troops have killed nearly 3,000 Taliban fighters in the past six months, including roughly 600 insurgent commanders. Allen claimed coalition forces had reversed the Taliban's momentum in key areas of the country, particularly southern Afghanistan.
Still, the missions haven’t dented the militants’ willingness or ability to fight. There were 1,600 detonations of improved explosive devices in June, an all-time high, and the Taliban are now regularly conducting attacks in once-quiet parts of northern and eastern Afghanistan.
Even southern Afghanistan, the main focus of U.S. operations over the past year, remains dangerous. On Thursday, a massive IED tore through a coalition patrol, killing five troops. At least 388 U.S. and NATO forces have died so far this year, putting 2011 on pace to match, and probably exceed, the record 711 troops who were killed in Afghanistan last year.
That, in the end, for the troops at least, may be the most dispiriting aspect of last weekend’s failed mission: Even if the Rangers and SEALs had succeeded in finding their target and safely returning home, it may not have made all that much of a difference in how quickly the war ends.