13 December, 2012

Somalia: Al Shabaab Map Update (Dec. 2012)

Al Shabaab, Somalia's local branch of Al Qaeda, has continued to gradually lose territory since government-allied forces captured its main stronghold two months ago. As a follow-up to our October feature on the two-year retreat of Al Shabaab, we now present the latest changes to the map of control in southern Somalia.

Map of Al Shabaab control in southern Somalia as of December 2012, highlighting recent advances by government and African Union troops since the capture of key port city Kismayo. Includes the December capture of Jowhar by Ugandan AU forces.
Southern Somalia: recent government-allied advances against Al Shabaab. Original map by Evan Centanni. Incorporates elements from this blank map by Eric Gaba and this locator map by TheEmirr. (license: CC BY-SA).

Slow Progress Against Al Shabaab
Somalia's Islamic extremist militia, Al Shabaab, was greatly weakened when its biggest port and de facto capital of Kismayo was taken by government-allied African Union (AU) forces in October (See: The Retreat of Al Shabaab). However, it still controls a significant amount of territory, and the Somali and AU forces' advance has been slow, with their first major territorial gain acheived only this past weekend.

Although our previous map suggested that Burhakaba east of Baidoa was under government-allied control at that time, it became clear soon after publication that the city was in fact still under the control of Al Shabaab. Most of the Somali/AU offensives over the last two months have centered on the goal of opening up the road from Mogadishu to Baidoa - an effort that has currently stalled about halfway between Wanlaweyne and Burhakaba.

Flag of Somalia Country Name:  
Somalia (English)
Soomaaliya (Somali)
• aṣ-Ṣūmāl (Arabic)
Official Name:  
Federal Republic of Somalia (English)
Jamhuuriyadda Federaalka Soomaaliya (Somali)
Jumhūriyyat aṣ-Ṣūmāl al-Fideraaliya (Arabic) 
Capital: Mogadishu
Kenyan-led AU and Somali troops also began an advance towards Jilib in the southwest (presumably along the road from Afmadow, since Jamaame hasn't been reported captured), but have apparently not yet reached that objective either. The first major town to be taken from Al Shabaab since October is Jowhar, north of Mogadishu, which fell to Ugandan-led AU and Somali forces on Sunday.

Shifting Power Structures
In other developments, the pro-government ASWJ militia, which was among the first to make gains against Al Shabaab nearly two years ago, has formally agreed to join the Somali federal government and integrate into the national army. This means that the areas north of Al Shabaab's territory, which have long been controlled autonomously by the ASWJ, will now theoretically fall under the jurisdiction of the national government.

In practice, much of this area is still patrolled by government-allied troops from Ethiopia, who invaded last year to push Al Shabaab back from their border, though the major cities of Baidoa and Beledweyne have since been handed over to AU peacekeepers. For a who's-who of the many players in Somalia's civil war, see our previous Somalia feature.

Graphic of Somali flag is in the public domain (source).


  1. Daniel Zollinger14 December, 2012 14:50

    Thank you for the good map!
    ASWJ's alignment with the national government is so far a mere lip service, similar statements have been given by ASWJ leaders already in the past. The national government has by no means "direct jurisdiction" over that territory, it will have to continue to deal with it through the ASWJ proxy.

  2. Thanks, Daniel!

    I actually share your judgement of the situation with ASWJ - I've now tweaked the wording in the article to better reflect the situation.

  3. Hey Evan,
    This map is great!
    May I ask on what data you base your territory estimations?

    PS: I work for the HIIK (Heidelberg Institute of International Conflict Research, www.hiik.de), surveying Somalia since the beginning of 2010.

    1. Hi Tim,

      Thanks! The territory estimations are based on reports of cities and towns (occasionally villages) taken by either side, mostly in English-language regional news media. The biggest sources are Shabelle Media Network and, formerly, SomaliaReport.com. Captures of key towns and cities are also reported by major international outlets. Whenever I update the map, the accompanying text includes inline links to at least one source for each event.

      Control outside of major populated areas is extrapolated from the data discussed above. At this scale, settlements are packed densely enough that few large areas of the map are far from a settlement whose status is known. Note that the data includes minor towns and villages not displayed on this map, so the "resolution" is greater than would be implied by extrapolation from only the cities shown.

      If you have questions about any specific parts of the map, I encourage you to e-mail me (evan@polgeonow.com). I would be more than happy to share my data sources and methodological decisions with you. What kind of work are you doing for the HIIK?

    2. One more thing I forgot to mention: my preferred way of keeping up with events in Somalia is through the Somalia channel on AllAfrica.com:


      They aggregate English-language reports from various local and regional sources, and you can subscribe to daily e-mail updates. Whenever a town changes hands, there's normally at least on source that shows up in their feed (often two or three).