A new State Department report designating terrorist organizations notably excludes one group: the Taliban. The U.S. has been fighting a war in Afghanistan for almost a decade aimed at “defeating the Taliban,” Taliban members repeatedly have threatened and killed American citizens and lawmakers have increased pressure on State to add the Taliban to the list.
Earlier this summer, a group of congressional Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urging her to begin the process of categorizing the Taliban as a terrorist group. In June, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey proposed legislation that would immediately add the Taliban to the terrorist list.
Yet the State Department’s report (due on April 30 but released last week), did not include the Taliban with groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas and the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). To qualify, an organization must meet only three criteria: It must be foreign, it must engage in terrorist activity and its activity must threaten the security of the U.S. or its citizens.
“It is hard to imagine this agency can see fit to issue a report that doesn’t include the Taliban groups,” Fred Gedrich, a foreign policy analyst and former State Department employee, told The Daily Caller. “They have killed more Americans and conducted more terror attacks on innocent civilians during the past 12 months than any other terror group.“
Gedrich and others troubled by the Taliban’s absence from the list note that the Taliban recruited and trained the failed Times Square bomber. Just days ago the Taliban claimed responsibility for the deaths of six American medical missionaries in Afghanistan.
“Leaving these ruthless groups off the terror list undermines State Department credibility and could further endanger American troops, U.S. embassy personnel and others in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Americans innocently going about their business in the United States,” Gedrich said.
Further inspection of the State Department’s report reveals that not all the terrorist organizations listed meet the requirements as precisely as the Taliban does. The Mujahadin-E Khalq (MEK), for example, is an Islamist organization that seeks to overthrow the Iranian regime. Although a U.S. citizen has not been harmed by the MEK since the 1970s, it was designated a terrorist organization during the Clinton administration in hopes that rapprochement could be reached with Iran.
The MEK continues to be included on the list, while the Taliban has not appeared once. And the seemingly arbitrary decision on the part of the State Department has confused even the most experienced foreign affairs experts.
“It’s insane because we are talking about the most barbaric group in the world,” said Gedrich.
“I don’t know why,” Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former CIA officer, told TheDC. “Bush should have done so back in 2001.”
So is the decision not to include the Taliban purely a political one? Some suggest it’s possible, that the U.S. government, going back to the early days of the Bush administration, does not want to ruin its chances for some type of rapprochement with the more moderate parts of the Taliban.
“There may be some today who do hope for a political process with the Taliban,” said Riedel. “But that does not explain why we didn’t put them on the list in 2001-2008 during the Bush years.”
When contacted by TheDC, Rhonda Shore, senior public affairs adviser in the Counterterrorism Office of the State Department, said, “We’re considering the question of designating the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and are following the necessary procedures to establish a clear evidentiary basis to support any FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organization) designation.”
When pressed, Shore declined to comment any further.