A major foreign terrorist attack on the US is now ‘almost inconceivable’
Foreign terrorist groups, including some affiliated with Islamic State and al-Qaeda, may have the desire to launch major attacks on American soil, but decades of counterterrorism work have made carrying out such an operation nearly impossible. , according to a senior US Homeland Security official. .
Nicholas Rasmussen, the Department of Homeland Security’s counterterrorism coordinator, on Monday called the possibility of an attack reminiscent of September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and killed nearly 3,000 people, “almost inconceivable”.
“We have achieved what I would call [a] suppressive effect on the ability of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda to carry out large-scale attacks here in the homeland,” Rasmussen said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
“It’s a big deal,” he said at an event hosted by George Washington University’s Extremism Program. “It’s something quite important and has been expensive.”
Rasmussen’s statement comes just weeks after senior military and intelligence officials testified before Congress warning that the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate is seeking to attack US or Western targets.
IS-Khorasan “can conduct foreign operations against US or Western interests overseas in less than six months without warning,” US Central Command Gen. Michael Kurilla told lawmakers earlier this month.
A week earlier, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers: “It’s only a matter of time before they have the capability and the intent to attack the ‘West”.
Earlier this year, Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, called IS-Khorasan “the threat actor that worries me the most”.
For now, US military and intelligence officials agree with Rasmussen that the likelihood of an attack on US soil is low, and that he is more credible than IS-Khorasan or other groups. are more likely to target US or Western interests in South Asia or Europe.
But even Rasmussen fears the threat from groups like IS-Khorasan will grow if the United States and its allies and partners are unable to keep up the pressure on foreign terrorist organizations.
“I fear that the suppressive effect that we achieved at great expense is not permanent,” he said on Monday. “There is certainly nothing about this condition that would suggest it will be permanent, naturally or on its own.”
Some lawmakers and officials have been particularly concerned, pointing to a loss of intelligence on the ground following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.
Since then, the US military has carried out just one counterterrorism strike in Afghanistan, killing al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last year. And military officials have warned that gathering intelligence from the air, via planes or drones, is difficult because of the long distances between US bases and target areas in Afghanistan.
As a result, senior US military commanders fear they won’t be able to access key details and intelligence that could give the country more warning of an impending attack.
Rasmussen acknowledged those concerns, describing the situation as “suboptimal.”
“We are actively in a risk management and mitigation posture, trying to make the best possible use of the residual intelligence resources we have,” he said. “I am confident, however, that we are looking and looking for the right things to get this warning.”
Domestic terrorist threat
While confident that the most serious threats from foreign terrorist organizations have mostly been mitigated, Rasmussen warned that the overall threat environment was worsening.
“The threat environment facing our national security and homeland security professionals is more diverse, more dynamic and more complicated than any other point before,” he said, further noting that the level of threat to the United States is on “an almost constant upward trajectory”. .”
“The diversity of different extremist schools of thought, ideologies, narratives that grip various segments of our population here in the United States is at an all time high,” Rasmussen added.
Rasmussen also acknowledged concerns about border security, particularly along the US border with Mexico.
However, he said there is currently no suggestion that a terrorist organization is trying to use the southern border to infiltrate the country.
“What we have not seen is information to suggest that foreign terrorist organizations or groups are actively using or attempting to use a perceived vulnerability in this area to aid their operations,” Rasmussen said in response to a query. question from VOA.
“That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t need to worry and work hard to address how terrorists or people linked to terrorism might exploit vulnerabilities on the southern border,” he said. added.