The Islamic State (ISIS) is competing with al-Qaida and could easily attack the United States to establish itself as the world's most dangerous terrorist group, retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden told Newsmax on Thursday.
"I would imagine that both of them are trying to prove their credentials as Islamic Fundamentalist Organization No. 1 by conducting a successful attack in the West, if not in the United States," Hayden, who directed both the National Security Agency and the FBI, said in an interview.
Therefore, the United States must be ready — defensively and offensively — to destroy the militant group. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier Thursday described ISIS as "beyond anything we've seen."
"We try to identify people who may have gone there and are coming back to Europe or the United States," Hayden explained. "But getting ready is offense. Rather than letting them sit there and plan to threaten my survival, we need to make them start spending an awful lot of time thinking about their own survival."
At the Pentagon, Hagel warned
the well-financed, heavily armed ISIS was an "imminent threat" to "every interest we have."
"They are as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen," he said at the session with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. "They're beyond just a terrorist group."
"This is beyond anything we've seen," he quickly added. "We must prepare for everything."
Both Hagel and Dempsey said that the Pentagon was pursuing a long-term strategy against ISIS, stressing that the group must be defeated in both Baghdad and Syria.
"We continue to explore all options," Hagel said, when asked whether the United States would consider expanding the U.S. mission into Syria.
The United States has conducted nearly 90 airstrikes against ISIS, but Hagel and Dempsey said they expected the group to soon launch a new offensive in Iraq.
Hagel also provided more details on the failed attempt by U.S. Special Forces to rescue journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS, and several other Americans held by the group.
The helicopter raid was authorized by President Barack Obama and was conducted at night during the July Fourth Weekend, CNN reported late Thursday. Two dozen Delta Force commandos, including Navy SEALS, raided an oil refinery in northern Iraq but found no hostages.
The mission lasted about two hours and several ISIS militants were killed in a gun battle, according to CNN. One U.S. soldier was wounded, The New York Times
The raid was similar to one that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Hagel described the mission as "a flawless operation" but refused to call it a failure.
"Intelligence doesn't come wrapped in a package with a bow; it is a mosaic of many pictures, of many factors," he said
. "The enemy always has a say in everything. The fact is that you have to always work that reality into any decision you make."
Hagel added that "the underlying objective was to do everything we could … to rescue these hostages, knowing their lives were in danger, clearly in danger."
In his Newsmax interview, Hayden also noted the problem with working with sensitive information in a dangerous, fast-changing situation.
"Intelligence is very hard, and you make your best judgment," he said. "You may have been correct the day before, but things change.
"You're not an omniscient being here. You're working with fragmentary information and making the best judgments that you can."
News of the failed mission has certainly put ISIS on notice and could jeopardize the remaining hostages, Hayden added.
"The ISIS folks will keep a closer hand on the hostages, perhaps move them more frequently, perhaps be more careful with their communications.
"Look, you and I didn't know that they tried to grab the hostages. ISIS knew," he added. "We actually conducted a raid. The fact that we attempted it — while may not be a good thing to reveal — it could have been a lot worse.
"You try to perfect your intelligence in regards to the hostages. You try to save lives."
In the meantime, the bigger issue is destroying ISIS — and the best way is for the United States to "move against them very robustly, very strongly and begin to degrade their capacity to do harm," Hayden said.
"It's not just time with regard to the hostages, but it's time with regards to ISIS' ability to do great harm."
Key are massive airstrikes in all Islamic State lands, including Syria.
"I would use air power to go after the capacity of ISIS to do harm. That means the equipment that they've stolen from the Iraqi army," he told Newsmax. "It means their leadership. It means degrading them in a powerful and very meaningful way."
The Special Forces would be even more effective now, Hayden said.
"If you can put Special Operations Forces on the ground to attempt a rescue, you can put Special Forces on the ground for other purposes, too. Not necessarily just for rescue."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.