Somaliland: White House Must Proactively Read the Threat Signs the Las Anod Crisis Unbares

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Militants and terrorists continue to pour into Las Anod, almost two months after fighting erupted in the normally quiet district capital in Somaliland’s Sool district. The violence was not spontaneous: The Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia met with key protagonists immediately prior to the unrest. Ethiopia hosted a conference in Jijiga attended by Diaspora activists, tribal leaders, and militants hostile to Somaliland, the most democratic state in the Horn of Africa.

While President Joe Biden has declared “diplomacy is back,” his administration remains beset by strategic myopia, unable to address more than a single crisis at a time. Last week it was Chinese balloons; this week it is the anniversary of the Ukraine War. Certainly, Biden’s predecessors faced the same problems. President Donald Trump’s inability to focus on any crisis was SADD (strategic attention deficit disorder). Bill Clinton (like Biden) turned his back on Afghanistan.

Biden’s disinterest in Las Anod will have consequences beyond the Horn of Africa. The State Department has increasingly ignored Somaliland, a former British protectorate out of deference to Somali irredentists in Mogadishu. This diplomatic inertia gambled with regional security. Without outside aid, Somaliland funded its own military from local tax revenue. Its tiny force nevertheless prevented terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or its local affiliate Al Shabaab from sinking roots, and its coast guard prevented weapons smugglers from penetrating along its nearly 600-mile coastline. The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act recognized Somaliland’s importance, and called on the Defense Department and intelligence community to broaden ties irrespective of the short-sighted approach by the State Department’s Africa Bureau.

The current crisis, though, risks overwhelming Somaliland. Somaliland officials say they have captured Somali forces trained by the United States to fight al-Shabaab who now fight alongside al-Shabaab against Somaliland. Somaliland has repeatedly offered unconditional ceasefires despite daily provocations by insurgents and terrorists. The Garaads [Las Anod elders] have rejected any ceasefire and demand Somaliland withdraw from territory so that the local Dhulbahante can carve out their own state, an entity that would be unsustainable economically, socially, or in terms of security.

Just as Afghanistan had its jirga in which local elders would gather to settle dispute, Somali clans have their equivalent. But just as the Taliban—backed by Pakistan—turned their back on traditional conflict resolution, so too now do militants trucked in from the Somali state of Puntland and southern Ethiopia. Somaliland elders have nevertheless traveled to the nearby town of Oog to mediate, but militants in Las Anod reject negotiation and prevent traditional elders from attending any gathering.

Over the last decade, the United States has given Somalia more than $100 million to train and equip its elite forces; it has given Somaliland zero, even though the former now supports international terror and the latter fights it. The situation is impossible because of the inverse funding, but the stakes are huge: if Somaliland withdrawals, Las Anod will become a safe-haven for Al Shabaab and a launching ground to expand not only deeper into Somaliland, but also into Ethiopia, just 40 miles away. Militants trucked into Las Anod now claim they are on a jihad against Jews and that Somalilanders are not true Muslims.

The situation in Ukraine remains grave. It remains crucial for the world that Ukraine wins and Vladimir Putin loses. Ukraine is not the only battlefield where forces of terror are on the march, however. To ignore terrorists seeking to establish a safe-haven is akin to hoping a cancerous tumor left alone goes away and does not spread. Both represent fatal negligence.

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

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