“Head-in-Sand Approach Undermines American Intelligence” (in American Enterprise Institute is about a Catch-22 created by the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu and the State Department’s Africa Bureau, refusing to establish an office in Somaliland and then discounting info since no ability to confirm Intel there)

By Michael Rubin

The guns are now silent in Laascanood [Las Anod], the capital of Somaliland’s Sool region. Insurgent forces comprised of Dhulbante clan militias, al-Shabaab terrorists, American-trained Danab commandoes, and Puntland forces overran Somaliland positions and forced Somaliland’s army to retreat.

The implications of the fighting have reverberations far beyond Somaliland.


First, there is the China-Taiwan angle. Evidence suggests the outbreak of fighting was preplanned, not a spontaneous event.

Second, the risk that local insurgents might turn the keys over to al-Shabaab remains high. Al-Shabaab seeks to establish a presence in the region from where they can levy taxes and extort money from people traveling between Somaliland and Somalia. The region does not need another terror safe haven.

Third, there is an oversight angle. The Pentagon has invested tens of millions of dollars into training the Danab Brigade, a special Somali force meant to fight al-Shabaab. That such forces turned around and allied with al-Shabaab to fight the army of the only democratic state in the region is a scandal. Likewise, the international community has invested billions of dollars to reconstitute the Somali Armed Forces. That members of this group likewise engaged in an offensive action contrary to its mission raises questions about the wisdom of international investment.

Head-In-Sand Approach Undermines American Intelligence
According to intelligence sources, Al-Shabaab is reportedly shifting its operatives to Las Anod, raising concerns for the security of Somaliland, #Ethiopia, and the entire Horn of Africa region.

There is ample evidence—including mugshots of prisoners, identity papers, and other documents—to suggest Washington should not dismiss the Las Anod fight as merely clan warfare. The question then becomes why Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and/or Director of Central Intelligence William Burns have not acted upon the evidence or, for that matter, the committees in Congress charged with oversight.

The excuse the US government makes is actually straightforward: While such evidence may exist unless a major media outlet reports it or US intelligence gathers it locally, the procedure is to ignore it. On one hand, this makes sense. Purported witnesses to the events often exaggerate their claims or funnel them through an ideological filter. In one case, for example, a German gadfly with former family connections in Las Anod attributed the death of a local poet to Somaliland shelling when photos of the site clearly showed the reason to be gunfire from an ambush within the Dhulbante-held area.

The question should then become why neither the State Department nor other elements of the US government establish an office in Somaliland, as European and African states have, in order to coordinate interactions or gather local intelligence. To monitor events in Somaliland from the US Embassy in Mogadishu, an office that exists in the city’s fortified international airport, is about as effective as reporting on San Diego from Rikers Island, New York.

Somaliland authorities have said they would welcome one or more diplomats in what would amount to an embassy office rather than a consulate. This, again, is what European Union nations have done.

In an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress called for greater engagement with Somaliland and especially with regard to its strategic port at Berbera, but the State Department drags its feet. Successive US ambassadors have denied their political officers permission to travel to Somaliland to access evidence, meet prisoners, or copy documents.

In essence, the Biden administration says it has seen no evidence that Somalis have diverted American funding to terrorists and pro-China partisans simply because it refuses to accept any such evidence that comes its way. This is disingenuous. Congress should not allow the State Department to normalize waste, fraud, and abuse, or endanger American national security.

Michael RubinAbout Michael Rubin

Senior Fellow

Research Areas

Arab politics, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Horn of Africa

Bio & Experience

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.

A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units.

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).

Dr. Rubin has a Ph.D. and an MA in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a BS in biology.


    • Foreign Military Studies Office: Contract Analyst, 2012–present
    • Naval Postgraduate School: Senior Lecturer, 2007–21
    • Middle East Quarterly: Editor, 2004–09
    • Coalition Provisional Authority (Baghdad): Political Adviser, 2003–04
    • Office of the Secretary of Defense: Staff Adviser, Iran and Iraq, 2002–04
    • Council on Foreign Relations: International Affairs Fellow, 2002–03
    • Hebrew University (Jerusalem): Fellow, The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, 2001–02
    • Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs: Fellow, 2000–01
    • Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan): Visiting Lecturer, 2000–01
    • Yale University: Lecturer, Department of History, 1999–2000
    • Iranian Studies: Assistant Editor, 1994–97


Ph.D. and MA in history; BS in biology, Yale University


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