The White House once again Thursday agonized to draw a fine-tuned distinction between the Taliban and terror networks like Al Qaeda, even as Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged that, technically, the Taliban are still on an official terrorist list.
The Obama administration is being pressed on the distinction because of a potential prisoner swap between the Islamic State and Jordan. The White House, without giving Jordan advice on what to do, has said the U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists -- yet last year, the Obama administration traded five Taliban fighters held at Guantanamo for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
On Wednesday, a White House spokesman said that was different, in part because the Taliban are an "armed insurgency," not necessarily a terror group.
However, while the Taliban are not on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations, they are on a Treasury Department list of "specially designated global terrorists" dating back to a 2002 executive order.
Earnest acknowledged that listing on Thursday.
But then it got complicated.
Earnest explained, "They do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism, they do pursue terror attacks in an effort to try to advance their agenda."
He said the Treasury designation allows the U.S. to impose financial sanctions against Taliban leaders.
However, he said the Taliban nevertheless are different from a group like Al Qaeda, in that the Taliban "have principally been focused on Afghanistan."
Earnest continued, "Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization that has aspirations that extend beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan."
The U.S. government has long viewed the Taliban through a different lens than it views groups like Al Qaeda.
But the effort to reject comparisons between the Taliban-Bergdahl trade and negotiations with terrorists like the one between Jordan and ISIS has drawn criticism in Congress.
House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., says "it's all semantics."
"I would suggest that this administration start talking to any of the service members who fought in Afghanistan, who might have been injured or seen their friends hurt or killed, and ask them if the Taliban is a terror organization," he said in a statement on Thursday. "The administration might actually learn something and stop looking so foolish."
Hunter also has noted that Bergdahl was held at one point by militants with the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network, which technically has been declared a terror group.
In another Taliban-related development, a U.S. official told Fox News Thursday that one of the five prisoners traded for Bergdahl had since reached back out to the Taliban.
The Bergdahl trade is back in the headlines following claims that the Army may be preparing to charge him with desertion. The Pentagon and Army have adamantly denied the claims, saying no decision has been reached.
Reports have emerged that Qatar also proposed a trade last year for an Al Qaeda operative held in a U.S. prison. Two Americans held by Qatar were ultimately released in December, and the Al Qaeda operative was released this month -- though the administration insists no trade was considered. Officials said the operative was released after time served.
On Thursday, Earnest drew another distinction between the Jordan-ISIS discussion, and last year's trade. He noted that those talks were done using the Qatari government as an intermediary.
the Afghan-based organization on Friday
took credit for an attack that killed three
American contractors and said it was carried
out by a fighter who had infiltrated
Afghanistan's security forces.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan was plunged into mourning Tuesday after Taliban militants in suicide vests laid siege to a school, massacring 132 children and 10 teachers during eight hours of sheer terror. In total, 145 people were killed, including three soldiers, officials said.
Those who survived emerged with stories of horror — of gunmen shooting indiscriminately into crowds or killing youngsters one by one.
"One of my teachers was crying, she was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain,'' Shahrukh Khan, 15, who was shot in both legs but survived, told Reuters. "One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound.
"All around me my friends were lying injured and dead.''
A military source told NBC News that the attackers were wearing police uniforms and suicide vests.
"They burnt a teacher in front of the students in a classroom," he said. "They literally set the teacher on fire with gasoline and made the kids watch."
The government of Pakistan declared three days of mourning for the lives lost.
"They didn't take any hostages initially and started firing in the hall," Bajwa also told a press conference. He told NBC News that they had enough ammunition and rations to have kept up the siege for days.
At a hospital near the school, blood stained the floors. Crying relatives roamed the wards and searched operating rooms, desperately searching for their sons and daughters.
One room at at the Central Military hospital was filled with teenagers who had bullet wounds, shrapnel embedded in their flesh and burns.
A doctor, Brig. Muhammad Waqar, said his son attends the school and he watched with dread as victim after victim was brought in
"I was waiting for him to turn up dead in an ambulance," he said. "I wanted to grab a gun and go to the school."
The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, which Pakistani officials said appeared to be aimed at the children of senior military personnel.
School Massacre Victim Describes Horrific Shooting
"We were standing outside the school and firing suddenly started and there was chaos everywhere and the screams of children and teachers," said Jamshed Khan, a school bus driver.
"The gunmen entered class by class and shot some kids one by one," one student who was in the Army Public School in Peshawar at the time told local media.
As the siege continued and Pakistani security forces battled to stop the assault, five "heavy" explosions were heard from the school at around 5 a.m. ET. Bombs planted by the attackers slowed rescue efforts, a military official said, and the massacre was not declared over until after 9 a.m. ET.