Are they prisoners of war or enemy combatants? More than a decade after the United States launched its attack on Afghanistan, we still havent really confronted that question.

Oh sure, President Barack Obama officially renounced the term in 2009. But he hasn't come up with any better term. He certainly isn't calling them prisoners of war. He's acting as if they're, well, enemy combatants.

Americans can go on debating this. The cows will come home long before terrorists stop posing a threat. However, they should be fairly certain about one thing. Hardened fighters with ideological hatred toward the United States are not honest.

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2007 file photo, reviewed by a U.S. Department of Defense official, military personnel inspect each occupied cell on a two-minute cycle at Camp 5 maximum-security facility at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. Open for 10 years on Wednesday Jan. 11, 2012 the Guantanamo Bay prison seems more established than ever. The deadline set by President Barack Obama to close it came and went two years ago. No detainee has left in a year because of restrictions on transfers, and indefinite military detention is now enshrined in U.S. law. Prisoners at the U.S. base in Cuba plan to mark the day with sit-ins, banners and a refusal of meals, said Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer who represents seven inmates. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File) | Brennan Linsley

Perhaps the most interesting part about this week's acknowledgement that the Obama administration has been secretly letting some of them go as bargaining chips is that the condition for their release is a scouts-honor, cross-your-heart promise to give up violence.

Get caught attacking American troops again and well, right back into detention you go, young man. You can almost imagine the terrorists quaking.

We wouldnt let gang-bangers escape the big house on such a condition. But apparently its OK for mortal enemies of our freedom.

This isnt exactly the kind of tough-on-defense posture the president ought to assume as he heads into election season.

Still, I have some sympathy for the president.

The United States no longer has the will to spend the resources necessary to completely annihilate the Taliban, al Qaida and its affiliated terrorist organizations. After 10 years of endless fighting, that no longer seems possible, and its certainly not popular.

But you dont want to just up and leave Afghanistan, either. If the Taliban regains control, youve hit the reset button. Its 2001 all over again. What on earth did we fight for?

So why not try to leave with some sort of agreement that the Taliban will play nice?

Thats the point of this prisoner release. Its to goad the Taliban into making a deal. These releases apparently have been going on for awhile to aid negotiations. Tribal elders will promise to end violence if certain people are released. The military then monitors to see if those promises are kept.

Trouble is, its not working, at least not as an overall strategy.

A report from the House and Senate intelligence committees this week said the Taliban has grown stronger since the troop surge in Afghanistan two years ago. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., confirmed this, agreeing that Obamas recent declaration that the Talibans momentum has been broken and the tide had turned did not match the evidence.

No one is saying how many bad guys we let go after pinky-swearing, so we can't tell for sure whether that's why the Taliban is getting stronger. But once the U.S. begins to withdraw in large numbers, it would seem that the promises will be of little effect.

The Bush administration held that terrorists captured in the field of battle were enemy combatants. These fighters did not represent a nation state and were not clothed in a uniform. Therefore, they could be held indefinitely in detention facilities without regard for the rules of the Geneva Conventions.

Barack Obama campaigned for the White House with the promise to close Guantanamo and other detention facilities. But soon after taking office he rethought that position, faced with the realities of a war that was anything but conventional.

He abandoned the name enemy combatants, but apparently not the principle.

The guys the U.S. is releasing were being held in Afghanistan. They can be let go without congressional approval. You cant help wondering about the long-term consequences.