(CNSNews.com) – State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki declined on Friday to directly say whether the murder of three U.S. civilians at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday—which the Taliban claimed responsibility for--was an act of terrorism.
“Obviously any attack that kills contractors, that kills individuals who are working there in harm’s way, is horrific and a tragedy but I’m not going to put new labels on it today.”
She also said: “We see a difference between Taliban and ISIL.”
On Thursday, three Americans working as contractors for the North Carolina-based Praetorian Standards Inc., were shot and killed and another was wounded by a member of the Afghan security forces.
The Taliban then took credit for the attack. As reported by the Washington Post, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that the killer was Ihsanullah bin Mullah Rahmatulla, who had infiltrated Afghan security forces.
“He managed yesterday evening to attain his goal and opened fire with his rifle on a group of American occupiers,” Mujahid said, as quoted in the Post. The attacker was then killed.
“The martyr was able to successfully defend his religion … and the glory of his country, and by giving himself away as a sacrifice, he cast a number of the occupying disbelievers into the abyss of hell,” said the Taliban spokesman, according to the Post.
At Friday’s State Department press briefing, CNSNews.com asked: “The Taliban has taken credit for murdering three American civilian contractors at the Kabul airport yesterday. Were those murders an act of terrorism?”
“Well, one, I think the Department of Defense has spoken to this a bit so I’d point you to their comments,” said Psaki. “There was a shooting at the North Kabul International Airport Complex yesterday. We’ve seen reports that the Taliban have claimed responsibility. There’s an investigation going on into this incident. Obviously, any attack that kills contractors, that kills individuals who are working there in harm’s way, is horrific and a tragedy but I’m not going to put new labels on it today.”
AP Reporter Matt Lee later returned to the question asking Psaki: “I’m just not sure why you wouldn’t just say of course it’s a terrorist attack."
“It’s an act of terror when American citizens are, individuals, are killed, like contractors, absolutely,” Psaki said.
Later, Lee asked her: “Is there anything that has been uncovered in this investigation into what happened at the Kabul Airport to suggest that it was not in fact a terrorist attack?”
“I was not suggesting that,” said Psaki, “but I think we have a responsibility as the U.S. government to let processes see themselves out and that’s what we’re doing.”
Lee followed up: “But do you have some reason to believe that it wasn’t a terrorist attack?”
Psaki responded: “I wasn’t suggesting that, Matt. I just—we let the processes see themselves through.”
Another reporter then asked: “It was an Afghan policeman who did this, obviously working for the Taliban. Are you concerned that this may happen time and time again?”
Psaki: “I am not going to address your question.”
Another reporter asked: “Do you know if the Afghan Taliban was ever listed as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’?”
Psaki explained that the status that was assigned to the Taliban was different from being designated as a “foreign terrorist organization.”
She said: “If the Afghan Taliban was? So, I know there has been a lot of confusion about this question. There was—so, in 2002, the Department of State designated the Afghan Taliban as a ‘specially designated global terrorist entity.’ That’s different. I know that there has been—I am just being specific here—in terms of what has been said or what’s been determined and what hasn’t. I know the White House has also addressed this pretty extensively as well.”
Psaki continued, explaining that President Obama had made a determination not to target “belligerents” in Afghanistan because they were members of the Taliban.
She said: “Also, back when we made our decision about our combat role in Afghanistan the president talked about how U.S. forces would continue target the remnants of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the U.S. military forces will no longer target belligerents solely because they are members of the Taliban.
“So, clearly, there have been, you know, we see a difference between Taliban and ISIL, for example, but obviously there are still horrific acts that have happened that remain concerning to us, and we remain focused on targeting the remnants of al Qaeda, and that is something that is part of our ongoing presence.”
At the White House on Wednesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz had drawn a distinction between the Taliban and ISIL, saying that the Taliban was “an armed insurgency” not a terrorist group.
“Well, I’d also point out that the Taliban is an armed insurgency; ISIL is a terrorist group,” said Schultz. “So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups.”
A reporter then asked Schultz: “You don’t think the Taliban is a terrorist group?
“I don’t think that the Taliban--the Taliban is an armed insurgency,” said Schultz.
After Psaki said at the State Department on Friday that “we see a difference between the Taliban and ISIL,” a reporter brought up to her what Schultz had said.
“Yeah, I know the White House has addressed this,” she said.
“And I just made a distinction as well,” said Psaki. “And I was more trying to clarify that I know there has been some confusion, and there is a particularly State Department piece, but the White House has addressed pretty extensively as you pointed out.”
The reporter asked: “So it is not a terrorist organization?”
Psaki said: “I think I just answered it.”