(CNSNews.com) - As the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ends on Dec. 31, American troops will still conduct counter-terrorism operations, but only if the terrorists "directly threaten our people or our allies," Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
"And we've also said that we're not going to target Taliban simply by virtue of the fact that they're Taliban. So being a member of the Taliban doesn't -- doesn't mean that the United States is going to prosecute operations against you for that reason alone."
Kirby said any member of the Taliban who "undertakes missions against us or our Afghan partners" will face a military response.
"So it's not about just being a member of the Taliban; it's about what -- it's about what you're doing, and if you're going to conduct terrorist attacks, it doesn't matter what I.D. cards you're carrying. We have the authorities to act in our own self-defense and self-defense of our Afghan partners."
Later in the briefing, Kirby repeated the U.S. policy: "[J]ust being a member of the Taliban doesn't make -- doesn't make one susceptible to U.S. military operations going forward in 2015 and beyond. But -- but posing a threat to U.S. or allied interests in Afghanistan certainly would."
What about Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader wanted by the U.S. government, a reporter asked Kirby. "Is he still someone the U.S. wants to take into custody? Or with this new policy does Mullah Omar now get a walk?"
"To the degree anybody continues to threaten U.S. personnel or -- personnel or allies and our interests over there, they will remain susceptible to U.S. military operations," Kirby repeated.
What about their past acts, the reporter followed up.
"I -- I can't -- I don't know if I can answer that question. The -- he's -- as the recognized leader of the Taliban, to the degree the Taliban still poses a threat or poses a threat to -- to us or to our allies, they will continue to be prosecuted by U.S. military operations. I can't really make it any more simpler (sic) than that," Kirby responded.
As CNSNews.com reported, Mullah Omar just this past July urged Afghan soldiers and policemen to “come and wage jihad alongside with your own people and together with the mujahedeen of the Islamic Emirate against the common enemy in order to gain the bliss of the two worlds” (i.e. the present world, and the one to come.)"
On Tuesday, Kirby noted that Afghanistan remains a "dangerous place." "We just lost two soldiers over the weekend in an IED attack. And it doesn't mean that between now and December 31st that U.S. troops won't be involved in conventional combat with the Taliban. It very well could happen.
"What I'm just saying is that we -- that the development of Afghan National Security Forces has reached the pace and the competency level that they are, for all intents and purposes, as you and I sit here, in full combat lead inside the country. So going into 2015, all that really changes between now and the first of January is that officially, we, on paper, say that mission's over."
Kirby said if U.S. troops are "directly threatened" in January, it won't matter who is making the threat: "[W]e have the ability and the resources at hand to help come to their defense, we'll do that. And it doesn't much matter at that point who it is that's shooting at them; we have that ability to go after them.
"What changes fundamentally, though, is ... on January 2nd, just by being a member of the Taliban doesn't make you an automatic target. It really -- it doesn't depend on who you are. It matters what you're doing."
Kirby agreed that beginning in January, it will be up to the Afghan security forces to go after someone like Mullah Omar.
"That's correct, unless -- unless there is a direct threat that's posed."
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