White House Says Taliban Does "Pursue Terror Attacks" But Is Not A Terrorist Group

Conn Carroll
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Posted: Jan 29, 2015 4:00 PM
White House Says Taliban Does "Pursue Terror Attacks" But Is Not A Terrorist Group

For the second day in a row the White House struggled to explain when they considered the Taliban terrorists and when they didn't.

Yesterday, ABC's Jon Karl pressed White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz to explain why it was wrong for Jordan to negotiate with the Islamic State for hostages, but perfectly acceptable for President Obama to negotiate with the Taliban for United States Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

Schultz said that the Taliban was not a terrorist group but an "armed insurgency" and that since they were not a terrorist organization, Obama could negotiate with them over prisoner swaps as is common at the end of any war.

Today, Karl was back again, asking, "Yesterday it was said that the United States government, that the White House, does not consider the Taliban to be a terrorist organization. I'm just wondering how that is consistent with what I believe is the designation that the Treasury Department has on its list of Specially Designated Terrorist Groups which clearly lists the Taliban. So, does the administration consider the Taliban a terrorist organization or not?"

Earnest responded, "Jon, the reason that the Taliban is listed on this description that you have put forward here, is for two reasons. One is they do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to advance their agenda and by designating them in the way that you have described, does allow the United States to put in place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban."

"Now what is also true though," Earnest continued, "is that it is important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics, but those terror tactics have been principally focused on Afghanistan. ... Al Qaeda is an organization that has aspirations beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, have sought to carry out terror attacks against Americans and American interests all around the globe. And that explains the difference between the classification." 

First of all note that Earnest declined to use Karl's "Specially Designated Terrorist Groups" description of the Treasury's terror list. Instead, Earnest refers to it as "listed on this description that you have put forward here" and "by designating them in the way that you have described."

The list is in question is referred to by the Treasury Department as the Specially Designated Nationals List which Treasury says "lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers" whose assets have been frozen by Treasury.

Is the Taliban on this because of their narcotics trafficking? No. 

As Earnest admits the Taliban does "pursue terror attacks in an effort to advance their agenda" and the Obama administration uses this Treasury list to "place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban."

So if the Taliban carries out terror attacks, and the Obama administration uses those terror attacks as justification to freeze their assets, why aren't the Taliban terrorists?

Earnest says the Taliban are not terrorists because their "terror tactics have been principally focussed on Afghanistan" while al Qaeda attacks American interests around the globe.

But the official State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is chock-full lot groups that only focus on local grievances. The Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Irish Republican Army are just some of the terrorist groups listed by the State Department that are "principally focussed" on local disputes.

The reality is that Obama does consider the Taliban a terrorist group, but he just can't admit it because then his trade for Bergdahl would violate America's longstanding principle against negotiating with terrorists for hostages.