Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah are making plans to retaliate against the United States homeland for the slaying of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Commander Qassem Soleimani, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center warned the Senate Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on Tuesday.
“Protecting against such threats is even more important now, as Iran, its agents, and proxies plan ways to retaliate against the United States for the January 2020 killing of IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani,” Director Christine Abizaid told lawmakers.
According to Abizaid, Hezbollah maintains a “high threshold for conducting attacks in the Homeland.”
“Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah balances his organization’s view of the United States as one of its primary adversaries against the likelihood of US retaliation if the group decided to conduct an attack,” Abizaid said.
“Iran views terrorism as a tool to support its core objectives, including projecting power in the Middle East, defending Shia Islam, and deterring its strategic rivals,” she added.
On January 3, 2020, then-President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of an Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia, in Baghdad, Iraq.
At the time of the strike, the Pentagon linked Soleimani to threats of attacks on U.S. service members and diplomatic personnel in Iraq. The Pentagon also linked Soleimani to the proliferation of weapons throughout the Middle East they said are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops and coalition troops and the injury of thousands more.
Also during the hearing, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman asked Abizaid if the United States homeland “was more or less safe from an attack following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?” He highlighted the fact that officials are unsure who entered the country on evacuation flights.
In a long-winded answer, Abizaid said the “terrorist groups that we’re most concerned about presenting a threat both in the region but also a future external threat is obviously one: ISIS-K, and two: Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda’s affiliate there” but “sustained [counter terrorism] pressure” on both terrorist groups has helped “relegate those two groups to primarily a regional threat.”
“In the wake of our withdrawal, the question is at what point does that regional threat build to a capability and intent that is focused externally and particularly focused on the homeland,” she continued. “I would say from an intelligence community perspective, that’s one of our highest priorities that is to monitor and assess the degree to which those groups actually present an external threat.”
Portman restated his question, asking again if the United States homeland is more or less safe following the withdrawal.
“The CIA and DIA assessments that I’m aware of are within the range that we had assessed prior to the drawdown – one to three years – I think it’s fair to say that the development of those groups external operations capability, we’ve got to monitor and assess whether that’s going to happen faster than we had predicted otherwise,” Abizaid responded.
“I’ll take that as a yes that we’re less safe,” Portman concluded.