National Guard given lethal weapons as US launches unprecedented security operation

Rozina Sabur
The US Capitol has been fortified amid fresh threats of violence - Shutterstock
The US Capitol has been fortified amid fresh threats of violence - Shutterstock

National Guard troops defending the US Capitol have been given lethal weapons to carry as senior officials launched an unprecedented security operation to protect government buildings.

Around 15,000 National Guard troops are expected to be deployed to Washington DC ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20 amid fears the days leading up to his swearing-in could be marked by violent protests.

Thousands of troops have already been stationed in and around Congress in the aftermath of the storming of the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on January 6.

The Pentagon has approved moves to arm all the troops around the Capitol complex with lethal weapons, including assault rifles, as well as Kevlar body armour and gas masks. Previously troops in the District of Columbia had only carried protective gear.

The change is part of an unprecedented security operation to protect Mr Biden's inauguration ceremony and the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump currently being conducted in the House of Representatives. 

The new security has led to the unprecedented deployment of National Guard troops inside the Capitol - Shutterstock 
The new security has led to the unprecedented deployment of National Guard troops inside the Capitol - Shutterstock

It comes amid intelligence reports that extremist groups are plotting to disrupt the proceedings.

Officials have warned Democrat members of Congress about three extremist plots which included plans for 4,000 armed protesters to descend on Washington, encircle the Capitol and potentially assassinate politicians.

Several pro-Trump groups have also called for armed marches in Washington and all 50 state capitals this Sunday.

It also emerged that the FBI had warned extremists were planning for "war" the day before the storming of the Capitol on Jan 6.

One Democratic congresswoman, Mikie Sherill, claimed on Tuesday night that fellow lawmakers had given groups "reconnaissance" tours of the building the day before the riot.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand congresswoman and regular target of conservative groups, said she had experienced a "close encounter" during the riots.

"I thought I was going to die," she said on social media. "I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive." Ms Ocasio-Cortez did not disclose details of her experience out of security concerns, but said the encounter was "very, very specific".

The Secret Service has taken control of plans to fortify Washington to avoid a repeat of the violence which unfolded during the siege of Congress.

The service will bring together representatives from as many as 60 government agencies and private companies to ensure seamless coordination of security plans in the US capital.

The extra layers of security include deploying around 15,000 National Guard members, thousands of police officers and other law enforcement officials, as well as layers of eight-foot steel fencing around the Capitol complex.

“Everyone can just rest assured they are throwing the kitchen sink at this event,” one Secret Service official involved in the planning told the Washington Post.