By Carlo Muñoz - 12/17/13 03:45 PM EST
The recent uncertainty over the U.S. draw down in Afghanistan and the worsening violence stemming from Syria's ongoing civil war remain the top two national security threats facing the United States, a top Senate Democrat said Tuesday.
"Those are high on the list," Senate Intelligence panel chief Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinIntel leaders push controversial encryption draft Democrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment Durbin: Iran amendment could kill energy bill MORE (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.
"It is the spread of terror, it is the growth of terrorist attacks" by these al Qaeda offshoots, and the unpredictability of these strikes that are already weighing heavily on the minds of national security leaders.
The situation would only worsen if Afghanistan and Syria become safe havens for those extremist groups.
Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai remain at odds over a postwar pact for the country, raising concerns of a complete pullout of U.S. forces from the country.
The failed attempt to set up a postwar security deal in Iraq, and the subsequent pullout of all American forces there, set the stage for al Qaeda's resurgence in the country and the recent wave of sectarian violence against Iraqi forces and civilians.
Most recently, the group's Iraqi cell and offshoots fighting alongside rebel forces in Syria have united into the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, which White House and intelligence officials claim to have aspirations to hit U.S. and allied targets in the West.
The unexpected departure of Syria's top rebel commander is stoking fears inside the Pentagon that militant Islamist groups have overtaken centrist opposition forces in the country.
The loss of Gen. Salim Idris, head of the secular U.S.-backed Syrian Military Council, "is a big problem" for administration officials who saw the group as the legitimate successor to embattled President Bashar Assad, Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelThe 13-year wait for 2 widows and a congressman comes to an end Petraeus doubts Syria can be put back together again Obama’s unsettled legacy on Iraq and Afghanistan MORE said last Thursday.
"We are evaluating everything right now ... what has happened and where we are," Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.
Outside of Afghanistan and Syria, al Qaeda's Yemeni faction, dubbed al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the group's North African affiliate known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb remain the two most dangerous and most active terror cells looking to strike inside the United States.