This decision comes after the Congolese government declined to renew the force’s mandate. Comprising troops from Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda, the regional force commenced its withdrawal on December 3, concluding a mission that began over a year ago in eastern DRC.
In a statement released on Friday, the EACRF revealed that a meeting of East African Community (EAC) army chiefs, held in Arusha, Tanzania, on December 6, endorsed the regional force’s exit plan. The army chiefs recommended to regional Defense Ministers that the force cease its operations in eastern DRC, effective immediately. The statement outlined that troop contributing countries were to initiate the withdrawal of forces in accordance with the approved exit plan.
Kenya has already withdrawn 300 personnel, and South Sudan was expected to withdraw 287 troops on the same day. The remaining EACRF troops, including contingents from Uganda and Burundi, will continue their withdrawal and equipment backloading by air and road until January 7, 2024. The EACRF Headquarters, situated in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, will be the final component to depart.
The regional force had earlier announced its intention to hand over its positions to troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), anticipated to arrive in eastern DRC by the end of December. Deployed in November 2022, the EACRF supported peace efforts and monitored the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group, which had engaged in conflict with the Congolese army and its allies in North Kivu.
Concerns were raised about renewed hostilities between conflicting parties, jeopardizing regional peace efforts. The EAC army chiefs expressed unease about ongoing clashes in the joint operation area where EACRF troops were stationed. They urged the Congolese army (FARDC), M23, and other armed groups to cease hostilities, emphasizing the importance of allowing peace processes to continue their mission in finding lasting solutions to security challenges.
The decision to withdraw the regional force follows disagreements with the Congolese government regarding the implementation of its mandate. The First Force Commander, Maj Gen Jeff Nyagah, resigned in April, citing threats to his security. Kinshasa had sought the EACRF’s involvement in combating the M23, a request beyond the force’s operational mandate.
As the withdrawal progresses, the EACRF disclosed that the Congolese government has assured the contingents of its commitment to ensuring their security and providing necessary assistance during their movement to respective transit locations, including Goma International Airport and border posts.
Eastern DRC, plagued by over 130 local and foreign armed groups, has witnessed volatility for nearly three decades. Despite multiple interventions, including the United Nations’ longest and largest peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, the violence has persisted. The 25-year-old UN mission also plans to initiate the withdrawal of its troops starting from December.