The regional military force of the East African Community (EAC), whose mandate Kinshasa has decided not to renew, today began to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An initial group of about 100 Kenyans from the regional force – which also includes soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan – departed shortly after 5am from the airport in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, bound for Nairobi.

A spokesman for the KAA force confirmed that the aircraft was bound for Nairobi and was carrying only Kenyans, but did not elaborate further on the timing of the rest of the operation.

Kenyan troops began arriving in Goma in November 2022, about a year after the resurgence in North Kivu of the March 23 Movement (M23) insurgency that – backed by Rwanda – seized large parts of the province.

The DR Congo authorities then requested the assistance of a regional military force of the KAA to drive the rebels out of the area.

However, the population of the province and subsequently the country’s government criticized the KAA soldiers, accusing them – with the exception of the Burundians – of co-existing with the rebels instead of forcing them to surrender their weapons.

After the East African Community summit on 25 November, it was announced that the DR Congo “will not renew the mandate of the regional force beyond 8 December 2023”.