WASHINGTON - While maintaining that the Afghan Taliban is not a terrorist outfit, the White House termed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan a terrorist organization, drawing a sharp distinction between the two groups.

“I believe that was actually the Pakistani Taliban (behind the Peshawar school attack), and that is an organisation that is classified as a terrorist organisation, and these are two different groups that we’re talking about here,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday as the issue of Afghan Taliban’s status came up for the second day.

Responding to questions, Earnest said the slaughter of around 140 children at Peshawar’s Army Public School was a terrorist attack, but noted Islamabad has not yet determined the perpetrators behind it.

“I think that the Pakistanis are still trying to determine precisely who is responsible for carrying out that terrorist attack, so I don’t want to prejudge whatever investigation or conclusion they may arrive at. If they conclude that it was the Pakistani Taliban that would certainly be consistent with their classification as a terrorist organisation.”

On Wednesday, Earnest’s deputy Eric Schultz told reporters that the White House considers the Taliban an “armed insurgency” and not a “terrorist group” as he justified the administration’s decisions leading up to the US Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl swap with Taliban detainees last year. On Thursday, Earnest tried to elaborate on Schultz’s comments, but still left reporters unconvinced.

Pointedly asked why the White House does not consider the Taliban to be a terrorist group when the outfit is so designated on Treasury Department’s list of specially designated terrorist groups. “The reason that the Taliban is listed on the (list targeting financial sanctions) — is for two reasons,” Earnest explained. “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 the way does allow the United States to put in place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organisation in a way that’s been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban.

“Now, what’s also true, though, is that it’s 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.” Earnest responded, when a journalist sought understanding of the US position in view of the Taliban designation on the Treasury Department’s list of specially designated terrorist groups.

Continuing, Earnest pointed out that the US is concerned about the Taliban because there are a significant number of American personnel, including American military personnel in Afghanistan, that are in harm’s way.

“The Taliban is a very dangerous organisation. And what the president has pursued is a clear strategy for building up the central government of Afghanistan and the Afghan security forces so that they could 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 organisation 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 is no doubt that both of these organisations are dangerous and have drawn our attention. After all, there are a large number of Taliban fighters that have been taken off the battlefield thanks to US efforts and thanks to the courage and bravery of our servicemen and women,” he added.

The White House spokesman explained that the Taliban have a different classification that allows it to pursue financial sanctions against them. “That has succeeded in limiting their capability that has been effective.”

Again asked whether the US calls the Taliban a terrorist group, Earnest replied: “And that is different than an organisation like Al-Qaeda that has much broader, global aspiration to carry out acts of violence and acts of terror against Americans and American interests all around the globe.”