Earnest Doubles Down: Important To Draw Distinction Between "Dangerous Organization" Taliban And al Qaeda

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At Thursday's White House press briefing, Jon Karl of ABC News' hammered returning press secretary Josh Earnest on what his deputy said about the Taliban at yesterday's briefing. Deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz, filling in for Earnest, would not call the Taliban a "terrorist group," but instead an "armed insurgency."

At today's briefing Josh Earnest seemed to double down on the rhetoric by tip-toeing around the term 'terrorist group." Earnest used phrases like "this description that you have put forward" and "designating them in a way that you have described."

Earnest did finally say the Taliban "has resorted to terror tactics," but qualified that they have "principally been focused on Afghanistan."

"It is important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda," Earnest told Karl. "The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics, but those terror tactics have principally been focused on Afghanistan."

Earnest also called the Taliban a "dangerous organization."

Earnest also drew a distinction between how the U.S. handles the Taliban and how the U.S. views al Qaeda.

"What the president has pursued is a clear strategy for building up a central government in Afghanistan and the Afghan Security Forces so that they can be responsible for security in their own country and take the fight to the Taliban," Earnest said. "That, however, is different than the strategy that we have pursued against al Qaeda -- al Qaeda is a terrorist organization that has aspirations that extend beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

"There are no doubts that both these organizations are dangerous and have drawn our attention," Earnest added.

"So if I am hearing you correctly you are saying the Taliban engages in 'tactics akin to terrorism,' but you don't actually consider them a terrorist group," Karl attempted to confirm.

They have a different classification," Earnest said. "They have a classification that does allow us to pursue financial sanctions against them that have succeeded in limiting their capability that have been effective."

Earnest again differentiated the two, saying the Taliban "is different than an organization like al Qaeda that has much broader global aspirations to carry out acts of violence and acts of terror against Americans and American interests all around the globe."

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: 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's consistent with what I believe is the designation with what 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?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: 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 try to advance their agenda and by designating them in a 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.

What's also true, Jon, is 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 principally been focused on Afghanistan. Now, the reason we're concerned about that is because there obviously are a significant amount of American personnel including American military personnel in Afghanistan that are in harms way. The Taliban is a very dangerous organization.

And what the president has pursued is a clear strategy for building up a central government in Afghanistan and the Afghan Security Forces so that they can be responsible for security in their own country and take the fight to the Taliban. That, however, is different than the strategy that we have pursued against al Qaeda -- al Qaeda is a terrorist organization that has aspirations that extend beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

al Qaeda and their 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 in classification. But there are no doubts that both these organizations are dangerous and have drawn our attention. After all, there are a large amount of Taliban fighters that have been taken off the battlefield thanks to U.S efforts and thanks to the bravery of our servicemen and women.

JON KARL: So if I am hearing you correctly you are saying the Taliban engages in "tactics akin to terrorism," but you don't actually consider them a terrorist group.

EARNEST: They have a different classification. They have a classification that does allow us to pursue financial sanctions against them that have succeeded in limiting their capability that have been effective and --

KARL: But you don't call them a terrorist group.

EARNEST: -- and that is different than an organization like al Qaeda that has much broader global aspirations to carry out acts of violence and acts of terror against Americans and American interests all around the globe.

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