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.
General Lute said: "We call this the long war, the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Even though al-Qaeda is not state-based or sponsored, its leaders still require physical sanctuary — they still need somewhere to live."
Al-Zarqawi, already being squeezed inside Iraq, would have little option but to leave once the country was politically stable and secure. "We think he might move to the Horn of Africa. It's a vast space, which causes us concern," General Lute said.
He gave a warning that al-Zarqawi and other al-Qaeda "franchised" groups were increasingly turning to "virtual safe havens" — internet websites — to plot their terrorist attacks.