By some (unofficial) reports, President Biden decided to launch airstrikes against Taliban fighters. It shows that the US is not friendly to the Taliban. But Chinese leaders had met with a leader of the Taliban some time ago.

So, is the Taliban a terrorist organization? Do China and the US have different opinions on this question?

  • 2
    Relevant TVTropes article.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 18:48
  • 1
    I also disagree with the close votes. The definition and designation of "terrorist grups" is a frequent discussion in the international relations wing of poli sci. Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 23:35
  • The first two paragraphs of the question seem argumentative and not particularly relevant. The final paragraph is the only one I can make any sense of at all, but it's still not a well constructed question. A terrorist organization by whose definition? Clearly not by their own definition.
    – user5526
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 23:41

4 Answers 4


There is no point in discussing whether an organisation is a terrorist group. The only possible answer that I can give is is it classified as a terrorist group. And since you tag "united-states", I will look at terrorist groups as classified by the USA. The question has been edited somewhat since I answered it, but I'll let this answer stand.

Recall that "taliban" just means "student (of the Koran)" and there are taliban in madrasa around the world, peacefully working with their teachers at learning the religion. But I know that you are not talking about "taliban" in this lowercase sense.

The Pakistani group "Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)" is classified as a terrorist group by the US. As is "Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM)" (a Bangladeshi group modelled on the Afghanistan Taliban). See the current list from the state department. (or the corresponding UK list)

The Afghanistan Taliban is not classified as a terrorist organisation. VOA discusses the reasons why:

  • the Afghan Taliban is an insurgency with control over vast swaths of territory
  • classifying it as a terrorist group would restrict U.S. and Afghan government diplomatic contacts with the Taliban, making peace talks more difficult.
  • successive Afghan governments have stopped short of calling for the group to be designated as a terrorist organization

However the Afghanistan Taliban is called a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity" in a 2002 Executive order, and its members are classed as terrorists for the purpose of immigration.

Classification as a terrorist group does not lead to "positive" action by the US and other militaries. The Real IRA is a classified terrorist group, but you don't (and you won't) see airstrikes on West Belfast.

You've also now edited to ask if it is classified as a terrorist organisation in China. Again, the answer seems to be no, but I've not managed to find a definitive list of organisations classified as "terrorist" by the PRC, possibly it exists, but in Chinese.

  • FWTW, Wikipedia has the full[er] list of countries that designated the Taliban as terrorists: "Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates". China and USA not included. Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 0:04

Not sure what your point is. Bombings are frequent in Afghanistan and Talibans occasionally claim them nowadays. Used to be more frequent, at least until they were negotiating US departure.

One's terrorism is another's freedom fighter has long been a cliche, and at least by some metrics, and to some people, Talibans are definitely checking off the marks on the terrorism qualifiers. You might also want to check back past history, before they were ousted in 2001. They were not nice people.

As to what "attacking it positively" may mean, you really need to be a little clearer than that. 20 years of NATO policing has not solved the issue militarily so claiming that nothing was tried is rather silly.

Reality is, Afghanistan has been an expensive sideshow for the last 10-15 years, with little prospect of winning. Being mired in it has forced the US to spend untold money developing counter insurgency tactics and weaponry that aren't especially suitable to winning a war against peer enemies in a high tech context. It's been a distraction and the fact that would have been better to have subdued and neutralized the Taliban does not mean that was easily done, as you seem to imply.

Counterinsurgency wars are notoriously hard to win, especially on foreign territory. The best example of that happening is still Malaysia, oh, 60 years ago.

China probably has interest in having the region somewhat stable, not exporting Islamic insurgencies and on top of that is on cordial terms with Pakistan, who initiated the Taliban and may or may not yet support them. Even Biden's administration is stating that Chinese influence may not be unwelcome in stabilizing the country. The US decision to negotiate with them, and not labelling them terrorists, is one of expediency and not necessarily a bad one, but it only sheds limited light on whether they can be considered terrorists or not, as James K points out.


No to both questions.

The question is a bit tricky as I know of no international agreement on exactly what terrorism is. But let's take it from the U.S. standpoint...

The Taliban refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and it controlled and governed 90% of the territory of Afghanistan prior to the terrorist attacks against the US on 9/11/2001. The Taliban was the de facto government within the country and was recognized as the government of Afghanistan by at least two Islamic countries in the region: the UAE and Pakistan. The US did not recognize the Emirate as the government, but that alone does not make them terrorists. The US asserted however that al-Qaeda (a terrorist organization) had training bases in remote areas of Afghanistan.

But now things have changed. The U.S. signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. That agreement is known as the Doha Agreement. As the U.S. has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists, it would be difficult to apply a "terrorist" label meaningfully, regardless of past executive orders, so I'd say the to answer the primary question is no.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the Doha Agreement. The Taliban pledged to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control but did not commit to halting the further expansion of Taliban control.

In operating under a peace agreement with them, a more interesting classification definition might be one of 'enemy combatants' vs. 'non-combatants' under international law, and the related question if the places subject to aerial bombardment were valid military targets. See Air Force Doctrine Publication 3-60 on Targeting, which does a pretty good job of explaining the relevant laws of war in plain English.

As to international society, I think most nations at this point treat the Taliban as an internal Afghani issue. In fact, some nations might consider the U.S. bombings of foreign territory an act of terrorism, particularly when done without a UN Security Council mandate. But the way the UN Security Council is structured, no resolution against the US (or any of the permanent members) is likely to be approved.


The Taliban originally organized as a political movement, and for a while were the de facto (and eventually de jure) governing entity of a wide swath of Afghanistan. They were driven out by the US invasion in late 2001, ostensibly because they harbored terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. They are best considered a resurgent revolutionary group, because their goal is to reassert an Islamic theocracy within Afghanistan, imposing strict Sharia law on the native population. They do not themselves endorse or practice terrorism — e.g., unpredictable attacks on civilian populations — but use standard military tactics to establish control over territory.

  • 1
    Not using terrorist tactics? You must be using a fairly narrow definition. Keep in mind that ever since they've been negotiating with the US they've tended not to claim responsibility for many attacks. But here's a little tidbit from 2006. Look non-terrorist to you? Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 6:29
  • 1
    Or google, with a time limit before 2015. google.com/… Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 6:29
  • 1
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: The term 'terrorism' is intentionally left biased, fluid, and interpretable, so that it can be applied to disliked people without limiting or inhibiting the actions of liked people. Note that every nation rejects the concept of 'state terrorism' — terroristic acts by a state against its people — because that would cause deep inconvenience and embarrassment. Note that prominent Jewish groups and leaders from Israel's founding were internationally recognized as terrorists, until suddenly they weren't because... you know... yeah. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 13:50
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica There are many politically active groups and movements, and many nations in themselves, that one could accuse of terrorism if one were so inclined, not the least of which are: (1) Trumpism, for the frequent and ongoing threats of violence they levy against political opponents, and (2) the US itself, for its Gulf-war initiated practices of extra-judicial imprisonment, drone-strike assassinations, and the like. We don't use that label there because... you know... yeah. But that just underlines the issue. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 14:00
  • asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/… has a section where it says the population was reporting fearing Taliban bombing attacks during the 2018 elections, with dozens of dead. If that's not terrorism, what is? Basically, anything that doesn't fit the narrative you want put forward is ignored. You are, as usual, very eloquent. And, usual, nary a source to be seen. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 16:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .