When a terrorist organization becomes an 'armed insurgency'
An organization that regularly uses suicide attacks against innocent civilians has been designated an "armed insurgency" by the White House.
The Afghanistan Taliban has sent dozens of suicide bombers and attackers to hit soft targets in Afghanistan, but the administration says it's OK to negotiate with them because they're not terrorists.
This pretzel logic was dispensed by deputy press secretary Eric Schultz, who was responding to a question about the proposed exchange of a Japanese civilian prisoner and a Jordanian pilot for an Iraqi woman convicted of terrorism in Jordan. Isn't that the same as us exchanging five Taliban commanders for deserter Bowe Bergdahl?
Not at all, said Schultz.
“Our policy is that we don’t pay ransom, that we don’t give concessions to terrorist organizations,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Wednesday. “This is a longstanding policy that predates this administration and it’s also one that we communicated to our friends and allies across the world,” he added.
But the U.S. engaged in a similar prisoner swap with Afghanistan’s Taliban last year, releasing several Guantanamo Bay prisoners in exchange for the freedom of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Mr. Bergdahl had been held by the Taliban as a prisoner since 2009 until his release last year as part of a prisoner swap.
The White House said the situation was different because Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is a terrorist group operating in Syria and Iraq while the Taliban is not, in the administration’s thinking.
“The Taliban is an armed insurgency, ISIL is a terrorist group. We don’t make concessions to terrorist groups,” Mr. Schultz said.
Asked directly if the White House considered the Taliban a terrorist group, Mr. Schultz repeated the line that they are an armed insurgency and said that the swap for Mr. Bergdahl was part of the “winding down of the war in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban was the ruling government of Afghanistan before being ousted by U.S. forces in late 2001 over the government’s refusal to hand over members of al Qaeda who were believed to be complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
Since then, the Taliban has emerged as an insurgent force with bases of power in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan that continues to attack U.S. forces, Afghan government forces and civilians in both countries. In December, Taliban militants staged an attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, where 145 people were killed, mostly children.
The United States does not list the Taliban on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list run by the State Department, but it has listed the group on a separate Specially Designated Global Terrorist list since 2002. And the National Counterterrorism Center lists the “Taliban Presence in Afghanistan” on a map of global terrorism presences.
The administration is scrambling to differentiate the Taliban from IS because the army is apparently ready to charge Bergdahl with desertion, and giving away five terrorist commanders for a deserter is "bad optics" for the White House. Besides, the administration would still like to cut a deal with the "good" Taliban to bring them into the Afghan government in a power-sharing arrangement. If they were to refer to the Taliban as "terrorists," it would look like an even worse idea than it already is.
There's no doubt that in diplomacy, exactitude in language is an absolute necessity. But this constant parsing of words from the White House about the terrorism issue is bizarre and unprecedented and not done to further our understanding of the threat, but rather to obscure it. It is motivated not by diplomacy, but by domestic politics.
The next bunch of Taliban terrorists who shoot up a school can relax. Your cause has been legitimized by the White House when they refer to you as an "armed insurgency."