The US and Somalia have signed a memorandum of understanding to build five bases for Somalia’s Danab Brigade at a cost of $100 million. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee praised the move as a centerpiece of their ongoing security cooperation. However, Phee omitted three facts: the US spends nearly $1.5 billion annually in Somalia, the Somali government sides with China, and the Danab Brigade has failed in its mission to counter al Shabaab. The US should consolidate ties with pro-Western countries willing to stand up to Chinese inroads and deny space to Islamist militants.

Below is an article by Michael Rubin for the Washington Examiner

The United States and Somalia on Feb. 15 signed a memorandum of understanding that would commit the U.S. to build five bases for Somalia’s Danab Brigade at a projected cost of $100 million. That followed previous U.S. provision of an even greater amount to train and assist the Danab Brigade. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee praised the move as “a centerpiece of our ongoing security cooperation with Somalia” and said the construction of the new bases “reflects our recognition of the success of our joint efforts to build a capable, professional, and accountable force.”

Phee omitted three things.


First, the U.S. spends nearly $1.5 billion annually in aid, security assistance, and support for peacekeeping in Somalia, though the only safe and secure region in the Horn of Africa is Somaliland, the one area that does not receive American assistance.

Second, the Somali government sides with China against the U.S. It sells fishing rights to China, condemned former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) visit to Taiwan in order to ingratiate itself to Beijing, and votes against the U.S. at the United Nations almost two-thirds of the time. When the U.S. pumps cash into Somalia, the Mogadishu government turns around and purchases military vehicles from China.

Third, the Danab Brigade has failed in its chief mission to counter al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated, Qatar-funded terrorist group, choosing instead to fight alongside al Shabaab on behalf of China to invade and sponsor insurgency in Somaliland, motivated by Beijing’s anger at the democratic region’s establishment of relations with Taiwan.

While the State Department denies the failure of its Mogadishu-first policy, evidence contradicts its excuses. First, it has funneled more than a billion dollars to Somalia to stage elections, yet Somalia has failed to conduct one-man, one-vote elections and instead selected a few hundred delegates who then vote among themselves. Perhaps the State Department could cite culture as an excuse if it were not for Somaliland’s repeated one-man, one-vote elections even without such largesse.

To suggest the Danab Brigade did not fight on behalf of Somalia in its China-sponsored proxy war against Somaliland or alongside al Shabaab terrorists is disingenuous given that Somaliland’s forces captured Danab and al Shabaab fighters inside Somaliland’s territory. Likewise, journalists have witnessed Danab fighters killing civilians.

Phee’s Folly Why Is The US Building Bases For A Chinese Ally
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee.

Too often, wishful thinking handicaps American policy. White House officials or Foreign Service officers craft policy in sterile boardrooms. In theory, embassy country teams inject reality into policy, but not so in Somalia, where both security constraints and State Department policy prevent diplomats from escaping their compounds in any meaningful way.

Both Ambassadors Donald Yamamoto and Larry André Jr. failed because they embraced policies that did not conform to reality. Both sought to ingratiate themselves with Somalia’s selected leader, confusing the strength of their personal relations with American national security. It did not work with April Glaspie and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein or James Jeffrey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and it does not work in Somalia.

Rather than throw good money after bad, it is crucial to consolidate ties with pro-Western countries willing to stand up to Chinese inroads and deny space to Islamist militants rather than use both as mechanisms of personal power. Taxpayers should be outraged at Phee’s folly. The Danab Brigade may be valuable in theory, but ignoring its lack of discipline and its tendency to work along clan lines or as mercenaries for politicians undercuts its value.

Washington should not continue to throw money into the Somalia pit absent accountability, nor should congressional oversight allow the State Department to ignore evidence its policies have gone awry. Rather than a blank check for the State Department’s Africa team, it is time for heads to roll.

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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