The withdrawal of the East African force (EAC-RF) deployed in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continued on Friday, with approximately 250 South Sudanese soldiers departing from Goma, as observed by an AFP team.
Earlier, nearly 300 Kenyan soldiers from the same force, whose mandate concludes on December 8, had already left Goma on the preceding Sunday. Donned in military attire, armed soldiers from South Sudan departed Goma airport at approximately 5:20 a.m. (3:20 a.m. GMT), destined for Juba. A second rotation was scheduled for later in the morning, according to a source from the EAC-RF on site.
Alongside Kenyan and South Sudanese soldiers, the EAC-RF also includes troops from Uganda and Burundi. The source on site indicated that Ugandan and Burundian soldiers are expected to leave in the ensuing weeks, with officers being the last to depart. The withdrawal process is anticipated to span a month, concluding by January 7, with equipment departing via road transport.
Ugandan and Burundian troops are concurrently present in the eastern region of the DRC under bilateral agreements with Kinshasa.
EAC-RF troops commenced their arrival in Goma in November 2022, approximately a year after the resurgence of the M23 rebellion in North Kivu. The Congolese authorities had initially invited the EAC to deploy its force to reclaim areas captured by the rebels. However, concerns were raised as Congolese officials criticized EAC troops for allegedly cohabiting with the rebels rather than compelling them to disarm.
Following an EAC summit on November 25, it was announced that the DRC “would not renew the mandate of the regional force beyond December 8, 2023.” In its stead, Kinshasa is relying on troops from the Southern African Community (SADC) to take over. While a spokesperson for Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi mentioned December 10 as the prospective start date for their deployment, confirmation is pending from the SADC or potential contributing countries.
The departure of the EAC-RF unfolds amidst ongoing clashes between the M23 and the Congolese army, backed by so-called “patriotic” militiamen.
Meanwhile, the UN mission, MONUSCO, which has been present in the DRC since 1999, is also facing criticism for perceived ineffectiveness. Kinshasa has called for its “orderly” but “accelerated” departure in January 2024.