The East African Community Regional Force (EAC-RF) began its withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday morning.
This is after DRC authorities refused to renew its mandate.
A first group of around 100 Kenyan soldiers from the force – which also includes Ugandan, Burundian and South Sudanese soldiers – left the region from Goma airport bound for Nairobi.
An official in Nairobi said Kenyan troops did exceptionally well and they were the first to deploy in Goma when it was near takeover by M23 rebels.
“Preparations to leave underway. The summit decision was non-extension beyond December 8, 2023,” said an official aware of the developments.
The plane took off shortly after 05:00 am and landed in Nairobi an hour later.
The East African Community (EAC) first deployed troops in the violence-plagued region in November last year after the resurgence of the M23 rebel group.
At the time, the Congolese authorities invited the EAC to deploy its forces to free the areas conquered by the rebels.
But the future of the deployment was thrown into doubt after DR Congo President Felix Thisekedi accused the force of cohabiting with the rebels rather than forcing them to lay down arms.
Following an EAC summit on November 25, the East African Community announced that the DRC “would not renew the mandate of the regional force beyond 8 December 2023”.
The Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen Francis Ogolla visited the troops on Saturday, December 2 and commended them for achieving significant milestones since their deployment in the Eastern DRC.
He called on the troops to remain unified and vigilant, as the EACRF mission enters a transition phase following the non-renewal of the EACRF mandate by the host nation beyond December 8, 2023, and the planned deployment of the South African Development Community (SADC) troops.
The CDF’s visit comes at a time when the security situation in Eastern DRC is uncertain following the breach of the ceasefire.
He visited EACRF Force Headquarters and addressed Kenyan troops stationed in Goma, Kibumba Forward Operating Base, and Kibati Logistics Base within Nyiragongo territory, North Kivu.
The CDF also paid a courtesy call to the FARDC Land Forces Commander, Lieutenant General Fall Sikabwe Asinda, where both deliberated on security matters within the Joint Operation Area (JOA).
Gen Ogolla relayed gratitude to the leadership of DRC and FARDC as well as communities in the JOA for their goodwill during the duration of the mission.
He reiterated Kenya’s commitment to continue participating in regional peace initiatives until Eastern DRC realises peace and security.
At the EACRF Headquarters, the CDF was welcomed by Force Commander (FC) EACRF Maj Gen Aphaxard Kiugu, accompanied by Deputy Force Commanders Brig Gen Emmanuel Kaputa (DRC), Brig Gen Gregoire Ndorarigonya (Burundi), Chief of Staff Brig Gen Michael Kibuye (Uganda), Chief of Operations Col Jok Akech (South Sudan), and other key Staff Officers.
The FC briefed the CDF on the current security situation and achievements of EACRF guided by the mandate.
Since its deployment, EACRF has been successful in preventing an imminent threat to Goma town, and Goma International Airport, and enabled the withdrawal of M23 from areas close to Goma along National Road number 2 and Provincial Road number 1030.
As a result, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 entered into a ceasefire agreement that has been held until it was breached in October 2023.
Gen Ogolla noted the partial return to normalcy in all areas where EACRF troops were deployed in JOA.
He further commended their professional conduct under EACRF and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
He said such professionalism contributes to Kenya’s recognition as a key contributor to Peace Support Operations in the region and beyond. Kenyan troops comprised those serving with EACRF and MONUSCO.
Gen Ogolla met officers serving with both organisations and, in addition, those from the EAC Monitoring and Verification Mechanism and Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism.
“We must always act professionally within the law and respect the constitution of the Host Nation. I must thank the Government of DRC for being a great host and for providing the necessary support to EACRF despite the inherent challenges,” said the CDF.
Gen Ogolla emphasized the need for collective responsibility of the East African Community to protect the Congolese people.
“When given a mission, be focused, keep track of your progress, and do your part until the mission is complete. In any international mission, we must always respect and appreciate each other’s values, culture, and customs,” he said.
Present during the visit were Chief of Strategic Communications Brig Zipporah Kioko, Colonel Benson Njogu, Col Mohamed Sirat, Kenyan Contingent Commander Col Daniel Rotich, Battle Group Commanding Officer Lt Col Dennis Obiero, Defence Forces Sergeant Maj WOI Elijah Koranga among and other contingent Senior Officers and Officers.
Source: The Star