(CNSNews.com) - On Wednesday, deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters, "the Taliban is an armed insurgency," not a terrorist group like al Qaida.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked how the White House can say such a thing, when the U.S. Treasury Department has designated the Taliban as a terrorist group. Earnest gave 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 as -- in the way that you have described (as terrorists) -- does allow the United States to put in place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization, in a way that's been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban.
"Now, what's also true, though, Jon, is that it's important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and Al Qaida. The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics, but those terror tactics have principally been focused on Afghanistan."
Earnest called the Taliban "a very dangerous organization," while al Qaida "is a terrorist organization that has aspirations that extend beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaida and their affiliates around the globe have sought to carry out terror attacks against Americans and American interests all around the globe."
ABC's Jon Karl followed up: "So, if I'm hearing you correctly, you're saying that the Taliban engages in, quote, 'tactics akin to terrorism,' but you don't actually consider them a terrorist group."
"They have a different classification," Earnest said. "They have a classification that does allow us to pursue financial sanctions against them...And that is different than an organization like Al Qaida 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."
In response to another reporter, Earnest said, "the threat from the Taliban is -- is acute, if you are a servicemember serving in Afghanistan or if you are a U.S. diplomat or a contractor that is working in Afghanistan." He said the Taliban is more of a threat to American interests "inside of Afghanistan."
"So, why aren't they terrorists?" the reporter followed up.
"[T]here is a clear difference between the aspirations that have been articulated by the Taliban and the way that they carry out or the way that they resort to some of their terror tactics and the terror -- you know, the terror attacks that are carried out by Al Qaida.
"There's no -- there's no denying the fact that these are very dangerous organizations. And that's why the United States government, under the leadership of this president, has devoted significant resources to defeating them."
The reporter asked Earnest if the refusal to call the Taliban terrorists is because "we don't negotiate with terrorists, and yet we negotiated (with the Taliban) for the release of Sergeant (Bowe) Bergdahl?"
Earnest said the conversations about Bergdahl's release "were executed through the Qatari government."
Earnest later agreed that the attack on a Pakistani school that killed more than a hundred children "was a terrorist attack," but he said it was carried out by the "Pakistani Taliban."
"And that is -- that is an organization that is classified as a terrorist organization. And they're -- these are two different -- two different groups that we're talking about here."
He said the Pakistani Taliban is classified as a terrorist organization.