Britain and the United States are training border guards in the Horn of Africa in the expectation that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, may seek sanctuary there if forced to flee Iraq.
Major-General Douglas Lute, the director of operations for US Central Command, which is responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan, said yesterday that once Iraq was stabilised, al-Zarqawi might head for the Horn of Africa to find a “safe haven”. He listed Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia as “ungoverned spaces” where al-Zarqawi might seek sanctuary to run his terrorist operations.
Small US specialist teams, supported by British counterparts, are training border security guards and working with customs and immigration officials in the region, hoping that they will be ready to spot al-Zarqawi and other al-Qaeda leaders, reports the Times.
According to Mail & Guardian, looking ahead to a time when US military officer said Iraq would be "stabilised", Lute predicted that Zarqawi would take the "path of least resistance" and leave for such countries as Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.
But before that, he suggested, Zarqawi would make a show of force in the run-up to the Iraqi constitutional referendum and subsequent elections. "He has to go down fighting," he said.
Lute said 90% of what he called the "enemy" in Iraq was domestic. There was only a "slither" of foreign fighters "sponsored from outside".
He declined to put a figure on his estimate. Earlier this year, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said there were between 12 000 and 20 000 hardcore insurgents in Iraq.