Although Taliban groups have killed more Americans and conducted more terror attacks on innocent civilians during the past 12 months than any other terror group, it’s truly shocking that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her State Department counterterrorism cohorts apparently do not believe the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban warrant their inclusion among the agency’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO’s). The State Department currently lists (FTO list) 45 groups as FTO’s. The Taliban are not among them.
When she took the reins at the State Department in 2009, Secretary Clinton promised a “tough” and “reality-based” approach to solving world problems. In refusing to assign the terrorist label to the Taliban groups, her approach more resembles “weakness” and “denial” rather than sound policy. And it hasn’t curbed the appetite of the groups as they continue intimating and terrorizing local populations and governments and killing and maiming American troops and operatives and others with tactics, techniques and procedures which violate Geneva conventions and protocols.
The recent failed terrorist bombing attempt on New York City’s Times Square – which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder publicly claims has been facilitated and directed and probably financed by the Pakistani Taliban – prompted six Democratic senators (New York’s Schumer and Gillibrand, New Jersey’s Lautenberg and Menendez, North Carolina’s Hagen, and California’s Feinstein) to publicly urge Secretary Clinton to add the Pakistani Taliban to the State Department list. So far, their calls and those of others have fallen on deaf ears.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended, provides the criteria for FTO designation. And it places FTO designation responsibility with the secretary of state. It also requires the State Department to submit a full and complete report to Congress on April 30 of every year for, among other things, those groups meeting INA criteria. The terror designation triggers: freezing of group assets, barring foreign nationals with group ties from entering the United States, and criminalizing the act of providing material assistance to terror groups.
There shouldn’t be any confusion over whether the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban belong on the State Department terror list. They do, because each group meets the principal INA criteria:
1. Be a foreign organization. The Taliban entities fit that bill. These Sunni Muslim fundamentalists groups operate mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan and practice the strictest form of Islam. They grew out of an Islamic religious school student movement in the two countries' sprawling Pashtun regions. And they draw primarily from a tribal network of 40 million Pashtuns residing in those two countries, particularly poverty-stricken and undereducated youth who receive indoctrination in jihad in local mosques and madrasahs. The leaders of, and most training camps for, both groups are believed to be located in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.
2. Engage in terrorist activity. The Taliban entities measure up here, as well. The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center reported in 2009 (the State Department hasn’t submitted the 2010 report to Congress yet) that, "according to open source reports, the Taliban, more than any other group, claimed credit for the largest number of terrorist attacks and highest fatality totals." The list of Taliban-attributed attacks presented in this report for Afghanistan and Pakistan include a horrifying array of kidnappings, beheadings and bombings of innocents in buses, hospitals, public areas and events, private residences and mosques.
3. Threaten the security of U.S. nationals and the national security of the United States. Again, the Taliban entities check the box. Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have judged acts committed by the Taliban and their leaders to be threats to U.S. national security, foreign policy and citizens. Since American military action commenced in and around Afghanistan in 2001 – 1,002 Americans have been killed and 5,525 wounded (most through hostile action by Taliban jihads – and with the largest percentage of casualties occurring during the past 12 months). The attempted Times Square bombing shows that the Taliban’s reach isn’t limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Secretary Clinton hasn’t articulated the reasons for failing to designate Taliban entities as FTO’s (and neither have her two War on Terror predecessors in the Bush administration), and congressional overseers haven't publicly asked her why, even in a May 11 letter sent to the secretary of state by a group of senators. The most reasonable assumption is that Obama administration officials are hopeful that non-listing would eventually facilitate rapprochement with "reconcilable" Taliban elements. However, the facts prove this option illusory. Moreover, history shows “hope” isn’t a fruitful policy when fighting ruthless enemies.
In reality, FTO designations are an important War on Terror tool for the United States. Leaving the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban off the State Department terror list undermines the agency’s credibility and could further endanger American troops, U.S. embassy personnel and others who are risking their lives in and around Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as endanger Americans innocently going about their daily business in this country.
As the nation’s top diplomat and key member of President Obama’s national security team Secretary Clinton must always act in ways that protect Americans from terrorist attack. One such way would be to immediately add the Taliban groups to her agency’s terror list. And if the secretary doesn’t do it soon, congressional overseers should do their job and ask her why.
Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst and served in the Departments of State and Defense.
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