For the second day, a White House spokesman backed away from calling the Taliban a terrorist organization.
On Wednesday, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz called the Taliban an “armed insurangency” in contrast to the Islamic State, a terrorist organization.
Pressed about it on Thursday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was confronted by ABC's Jon Karl, who noted that the Treasury Department designates the Taliban as a terrorist organization.
Earnest said the Treasury designation is because the Taliban does “carry out tactics akin to terrorism” the U.S. government can apply sanctions.
"They do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to try to advance their agenda. 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 that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban," Earnest said.
But, he added, "it’s also important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and Al Qaeda."
The distinction, Earnest said, is that Al Qaeda is a global terrorism organization, while the Taliban is focused on Afghanistan.
"The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics. But those terror tactics have principally been focused on Afghanistan," he said. "The reason that we are concerned about that is there obviously are a significant number of personnel, including military personnel in Afghanistan that are in harm's way. The Taliban is a very dangerous organization. "
The administration’s strategy is to strengthen the Afghan central government “so they can take the fight to the Taliban.”
"They have a different classification that does allow us to pursue financial sanctions against them that have succeeded in limiting their capability, that have been effective," Earnest said.
He noted: "There is no doubt that both of these organizations are dangerous and have drawn our attention."