Taliban Are Not Terrorists, or So Says the White House

Taliban carries out "tactics that are akin to terrorism," White House says.

ByABC News
January 29, 2015, 4:24 PM

— -- They act like terrorists, they regularly kill civilians like terrorists, but the White House does not consider the Afghan Taliban to be a terrorist group.

“They do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to try to advance their agenda,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained today, but “they have a different classification.”

Semantics aside, the Taliban is suspected in multiple attacks over just the last 48 hours that have killed more than 30 people, including a suicide bombing attack on a funeral in Afghanistan today that killed 16 and wounded 39.

Even so, the White House does not call the Afghan Taliban a terrorist organization, Earnest explained, because they are “different than an organization like al Qaeda that has a much broader global aspiration to carry out acts of violence and acts of terror against Americans and American interests all around the globe.”

The issue has come up because the White House insisted on Wednesday that a prisoner exchange between Jordan and ISIS would be different than the prisoner exchange the United States made last year with the Taliban to gain the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“Our policy is that we don't pay ransom. We don't give concessions to terrorist organizations,” Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Wednesday. “This is a longstanding policy that predates this administration. And it's also one that we've communicated to our friends and allies across the world.”

Schultz explained that the exchange the United States made with the Taliban -- releasing five Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bergdahl -- was consistent with that policy because the Taliban is an “armed insurgency” and not a terrorist organization.

But the Obama administration isn’t entirely consistent on this point.

On one hand, the Afghan Taliban are not on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (the Pakistan Taliban is on that last). On the other hand, the Taliban is on the Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, a classification that allows their assets to be frozen.

And even as Earnest was explaining why the Taliban are not terrorists, he slipped, calling them ... “terrorists.”

“We have not ruled out that there would be some situations in which U.S. service members would still carry out operations in self-defense against the Taliban or other terrorists who are operating in Afghanistan,” Earnest said.