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America’s Diplomatic Neglect Compounds Somalia Fighting

AK-47. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Fighting continues in Las Anod, the administrative capital of Somaliland’s eastern Sool region. It is a colorful region where Somaliland citizens flocked to register to vote just two years ago, standing in line for the biometric iris scans that the unrecognized country uses to guarantee its election integrity. Brightly colored villas—many built by Somali Americans—shine in sharp contrast to the dusty, scrub, and mountainous landscape, like some small New Mexico town.

Today, the peaceful Las Anod I knew is gone. Instead, it is at the center of a clan war. The tragedy is that the fighting was neither inevitable nor random. Different forces outside Sool seek to drive the conflict for narrow geopolitical, political, or clan interests. In each case, a more proactive U.S. presence in Somaliland could have averted conflict.

The China Connection

First, there is China. In February 2020, Somaliland rebuffed the People’s Republic of China to establish relations with Taiwan. China’s ambassador to Somalia who, until that moment, largely ignored Somaliland, traveled to Hargeisa to seek to convince Somaliland President Muse Bihi to reverse his decision. Bihi rebuffed him. By both history and culture, Somaliland hoped to orient itself to the West. The White House congratulated Taiwan for cementing its ties in eastern Africa. China fumed, all the more so after Somaliland discovered marketable quantities of oil. China has since doubled down on its influence in Somalia. Even as the State Department seeks to channel hundreds of millions of dollars through President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (HSM)’s government in Mogadishu, his diplomats vociferously supported Beijing against the backdrop of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

While there is no proof that Beijing is behind the current violence, there is much circumstantial evidence. Immediately prior to the unrest, a Somali who goes by the nickname “Ruush” (The Russian) and previously worked as an agent for Hess Oil in the region began meeting with the Chinese ambassador in Mogadishu. Around the same time, Abdullahi Haji OmarAmey,” the former vice president of Puntland who since 2019 has served as Somali ambassador in Ethiopia, met with his Chinese counterpart. Amey admitted in a speech that he had planned the violence in Las Anod for four months.

Distracting from the Fight against Al-Shabaab

Somali politics also plays a role. While many in Washington support HSM both as a more capable leader than his predecessor Mohamed Farmaajo and as an ally in the fight against al-Shabaab terrorism, HSM is not immune from the vortex of Somali politics. Clan rivalries always overshadow Somali politics, but simply describing the conflict in Las Anod as a fight between the Isaaq clan and Dhulbahante clan family is superficial. The reality is this: After the fall of Cold War-era dictator Siad Barre in 1991, his Darood clan lost power. Somalis saw Farmaajo’s reign as the revival of the Darood. Within the Darood, there has always been a strong irredentist sentiment. While Somalis, on one level, know this is impossible to achieve, Farmaajo and those surrounding him deluded themselves into thinking they could eventually bring not only Somaliland, but also Ethiopia’s Ogaden, Djibouti, and northeastern Kenya into Somalia’s fold.  This was part of the logic of Farmaajo embracing Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s alliance with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. Both Abiy and Isaias may have considered Somalia a junior partner, but Farmaajo believed the tripartite alliance was merely another way to achieve the Darood dream of broad Somali influence.

While many in Washington were frustrated by Farmaajo’s lackadaisical approach to fighting al-Shabaab, clan dynamics dominated his thinking. Keeping Al Shabaab potent was, for Farmaajo, a mechanism to keep rival Hawiye and other non-Darood clans in check.  

HSM’s rise to the presidency dashed Darood hopes as HSM comes from the Abgaal sub-clan of Hawiye. HSM’s push to defeat al-Shabaab in Hawiye and Dir clan areas empowers these clans to rebuild Somalia with a Somalia-first rather than irredentist agenda. By sponsoring a fight in Sool, Farmaajo and his backers hope to distract HSM from the fight against al-Shabaab and undercut his ability to lead a Somali recovery. That a man empowered and enriched by the State Department and American taxpayers now acts as al-Shabaab’s de facto enabler should be a scandal for both the State Department and Congress.

The Dhulbahante Will Never Have Their Own State

Not only is there no legitimate Puntland claim to Sool given that the international community recognized Somaliland’s borders decades before Puntland came into existence, but the notion that the Dhulbahante could have a viable state is a belief not backed by geography and demography. A Dhulbahante state would be dependent on Somaliland for trade and food. Dhulbahante leaders might incite violence, but they do their members a disservice by allowing them to become fodder for a fight instigated by outside forces for outside reasons. Nor are Dhulbahante complaints about Isaaq domination valid: The Somaliland government regularly includes multiple Dhulbahante figures in senior government roles. Somaliland’s Parliamentary Speaker Abdirazak Khalif Ahmed, for example, is Dhulbahante, as is Suleiman Yusuf Ali, the minister of information and national guidance. Several deputy ministers and directors-general are Dhulbante and they have multiple members of parliament.

That Dhulbahante clan chief Garad Jama Garad Ali denied the presence of terrorists in the region as Al Shabaab attacked a Somaliland barracks, hemorrhages his credibility and raises questions about his own complicity with extremism. To enable Garad to establish any autonomous entity would be to create a terror safe haven, essentially a Somali equivalent of Pakistan’s ill-fated Malakand Accord.

The State Department Needs a New Policy

Against the backdrop of these dynamics, the United States has either been absent without leave or aloof. Donald Yamamoto, U.S. ambassador to Somalia from 2018 until 2021, worked to empower Farmaajo irrespective of how the Darood politician sought to use American money both to empower Al Shabaab and destabilize Somalia’s neighbors. Yamamoto’s successor Larry André, Jr., has been little better, doubling down on a Mogadishu-centric policy with a studied indifference, if not hostility, toward Somaliland which, alongside Djibouti, is the most stable region in the Horn of Africa and alone is the most democratic. This hostility—in defiance of Congress no less—signaled to China and Somali irredentists a greenlight to spark unrest in Sool in an effort to destabilize Somaliland.

A far better strategy would be for the State Department to open a consulate in Hargeisa. This would no more denote recognition of Somaliland independence than do the existing offices or consulates of Turkey, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Denmark, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, or the European Union. Not only would this signal to China and irredentists in the Horn of Africa that the United States supports democracy and will never tolerate aggression against Somaliland, but it would also enable American diplomats to better understand clan dynamics in a volatile region. It is ironic that diplomats urge greater engagement with terrorist groups like Hezbollah in the name of understanding personalities and local intelligence, but refuse to apply the same logic to democracies. Put another way, it is impossible for even the most skilled American diplomat to understand Somalia from within the boundaries of Mogadishu’s international airport where the U.S. maintains its embassy.

Nor should the State Department alone play a role. The National Defense Authorization Act calls for the Pentagon to explore a presence in Berbera, whose airport once served as an emergency landing strip for the Space Shuttle and whose deep water port rivals Djibouti’s. It is time for André to stop foot-dragging on the process.  America’s strategic interest should trump the ambassador’s concern that HSM, who exists on American cash even as he defers to the Chinese, might object. 

Fighting in the Horn of Africa represents a failure of diplomacy and a human tragedy. It is not too late to smother its embers and reverse its impact, but it will take leadership in the State Department. No longer should Secretary of State Antony Blinken allow the Africa Bureau to run Somalia policy on autopilot.

Opinion Author Biography

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005). The opinions expressed in the piece are the author’s own. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).



  1. Abdi Hassan

    February 12, 2023 at 12:50 am

    Michael is biased and making advertisement for separatist Somaliland militia’s who is committing ethnic cleansing against Darod clan in Las Anod. They invaded by force to this area since 2007 and assassinating the intellectual local people, teachers, religious leaders and students. They killed several Hundreds of residents, displaced close to Hundred thousands people and shelling indiscriminately in public places such as Hospitals, mosques, schools, gas station and residential areas. He never mentioned that And called local elders”Terrorists”. Shame on you

  2. Farah

    February 12, 2023 at 12:58 am

    All he wrote is lies and fabricated. The writer is a hired lobbyist under Muse Bihi payroll. He receives every month 22,000 dollars from taxpayers of the poor region in Somalia.
    This article is a shame to this noble medium.

  3. Hussein Abdillahi PhD

    February 12, 2023 at 8:38 am

    A well written analytical paper. No one can change the facts in this article. Both above comments are pure fantasy. Somaliland govt peacekeepers were invited in 2007 by the inhabitants of Laascanood town when they couldn’t control the killings among themselves. Until a week ago Laascanood was a thriving town enjoying relative peace & development. The Greentown of Somaliland. The incitement of unrest has led the town to be haven of AL shabab and is no more in the hands of the locals. The only way is to clean the mess

  4. Hussean Fiin Civil Engineer

    February 12, 2023 at 10:59 am

    What a lair, you clearly are the enemy of Somalis, SSC is the back bone of the Somali nation. Im Somali American, and the US has and will have the first seat of our interest in Somalia because we are the breach between USA and Somalia. Laascaanood will fight and we will unite the Somali nation for ever. Stop representing our fight against the separatists.1

  5. Abdi

    February 12, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    Exactly Sir as you wrote in your analysis, it is more complicated than usual tribal conflict.
    We know that China’s debt leverage strategy to gain power over IGAD nations is alarming. The CCP floods these countries with debt, leaving them unable to repay and forcing them to give up assets. African nations like Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya have suffered for too long. Despite mounting evidence, IGAD governments are still not aware of the dangers of allowing the CCP’s parasitic operations on their soil. Tensions rise in places like Laascaanod, Somaliland

  6. Yusuf Robleh

    February 12, 2023 at 2:40 pm

    Thank you very much for putting everything in black and white as far as the current situation in Somaliland’s city of Lasanod is concerned. With your nimble mind what you have written in this article is based on facts and not something influenced by personal feelings. In other words, your analytical approach on the current prevailing situation both in Somaliland and Somalia simply reflects the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
    There has been a surge in the campaign for the destabilization of Somaliland by Anti-Somaliland alliance spearheaded by Somalia’s former president Faramaajo
    and Farah Mallin of Kenyan Parliament, ever since President Joe Biden signed the USA-Somaliland Friendship Act into law.The campaign which was aimed at disrupting the USA -Somaliland Friendship Act is the result of the current situation in Lasanod in which
    the USA trained Puntland’s PSF,the outlawed SSC militias and
    the Al-Shabab terrorists are fighting side by side against the Somaliland army.It took everybody by surprise that Abdi Madobe who is in the USA list of wanted terrorist is leading the Alshabaab terrorist fighters in Lasanod.
    One recalls how Somalia’s former President Faramaajo, who addresses himself as the reincarnated image of Fascist Gen.Barre signed a triangular alliance with Ethiopian Abiy Ahmed and Eritearian Dictator Isias Afwerke with primary aim of taking over Somaliland by military force. Following the collapse of the the unholy alliance,Faramaajo and Farah Mallin called all Darood Sub-clans to launch an all out attack against Somaliland starting in Lasanod.

  7. Ahmed Ismail

    February 12, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    I think the article is fair and addressed well the region politics .
    The most important issue to safeguard the public from the fighting and humanitarian supplies actioned by all .
    Continues fighting is not a solution for the conflict.
    I urge all parts to come to the table and resolve their differences once and for all.
    Thank you

  8. Abdulaziz Nur

    February 12, 2023 at 11:09 pm

    Utter nonsense is what I would say,this conflict is nothing more than a clan warfare. One tribe wants to curved up parts of another tribes land by force and it won’t work.

  9. Hassan

    February 13, 2023 at 12:37 am

    Very biased and and utterly baseless article.Shame on you!

    Laascaanood was part of Somalia and will be. It was captured by the seccenist 15 years back.

    This inter clan territory fight has nothing to do with China or wherever you wanted to divert the attention to, from the atrocities committed by Muuse Bihi and his cronies.
    It is always sad and disturbing to see self annotated so called “Africa experts” like Mr.Rubin to write utter lies and in fact laughable article. I don’t know if it is ignorance, maliciousness, personal interest, or may be all. But Mr Rubin your article became part of the crimes committed by Muse Bihi against defenseless people of Lascanood.

    Whatever your agenda is it is doomed and we Somalis will come triumphant. We might fight each other but we will not be deceived, divided and ruled again and again. Propoganda channels like yours are not coincidence. We see the motive and the bigger picture. You are not serving the interest of Somalia and Somalis.

    So stay away from us , would you?

  10. Mohamed

    February 13, 2023 at 11:02 am

    Well written and well said; this article clearly stated and unveiled the truth and what is going on in that region. truth is like bitter treatment and many people may prefer to have sweet poisons instead.
    Thank you, Sir.

  11. Momo

    February 13, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you Micheal for your accurate analysis about what is happening in somaliland and Lasanod in particular. It is clear to everyone that this war has different dimensions and have been organised by a number of culprits including China, Farmajo, Darood and Alshabab. This is unholy alliance who are planing to disrupt not only for the peace of Lasanod and the entire somaliland but also allowing Alshabab to have a base in the read sea.

  12. Ismail

    February 14, 2023 at 11:34 am

    A well written article based the reality on the ground

  13. Warsame Abdi

    February 15, 2023 at 6:05 pm

    This is well researhed and studied. Where you like it or that is the reality on the ground and if you deny the facts and don’t have the means to change things the way you would prefer you will only be absorbed with hatred. Grow up boys.

  14. Atm

    February 18, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    We should forget democracy in Somaliland and build a large base there to control the geographic choke point and ignore local politics. It they make a big stink about it arm one side to the total detriment of the other.

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