Last Word: Gen. Martin Luther Agwai

Gen. Martin Luther Agwai might have the toughest job in Africa. As commander of the new joint United Nations-African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Darfur, the former head of Nigeria's armed forces will lead the 26,000-strong force that will be deployed to the region next year. His mission suffered a serious setback last Saturday when unidentified rebel forces overran an AU base at Haskanita, leaving 10 of his troops dead. NEWSWEEK's Silvia Spring spoke with Agwai by telephone from Khartoum, where he was attending a ceremony honoring the dead AU forces, about the raid, the difficulties of his mission and how to be a peacekeeper where peace does not yet exist. Excerpts:

Spring: This week, 10 AU soldiers were killed. How did a small rebel group manage to ambush these soldiers so successfully?
Agwai: Where did you get this idea that it was a small rebel group? And these troops were not ambushed. They were attacked. Twice. The second time a large number of rebels overwhelmed the camp. Who these rebels were, I don't know.

What are the implications for your UN-AU force?
There are no implications. Right now, I don't have control over the AU troops. When my [AU-UN] troops arrive, then we'll resolve most of these problems. We are committed to staying, and I hope other countries will still allow their troops to come.

What are you most worried about right now?
A lack of troops. We're supposed to have 20,000 troops and 6,000 policemen. As of now, we don't even know the troop contributors. To be able to perform the task that is expected of us, that is what is my biggest challenge now. The resolution itself stated that by the end of August we would know all the troop contributors, and now we are at almost the end of September, and we don't know. So you see the whole program is running behind schedule.

Whom do you blame for the delays?
It would very difficult for me to sit here and apportion blame because I don't know what is happening behind the scenes. I don't know what challenges other people are facing, and I'm only looking at this from my own perspective. I have a job to perform, and there are resources that have to be given to me. I know if the resources are available, they will be given to me. I believe there must be challenges that all the parties are facing. I just hope that we will be able to resolve and find an answer to those challenges and that the troops arrive so we can save lives and property in this part of the world.

You ' ve warned the international community not to set its expectations too high. Why?
The resolution that created this hybrid [peacekeeping] operation is not a secret document, so many people have read that the force is to have 20,000 troops. I have had telephone calls from different organizations and individuals congratulating me that I now have 20,000 troops. Unfortunately, as you and I know now, we don't even know the troop contributors, so how can we talk about what those troops will do? Those people who are calling me will see nothing happening on the ground and feel disappointed. That is why I have already cautioned people not to expect too much because there is not much happening on the ground.

So you ' re saying things aren ' t changing fast enough?
Definitely. I am very concerned. I accepted the job because I wanted to give it my best, and I can only give it my best and be judged by the world depending on the resources available to me. And the resources are not forthcoming. They are not giving me 20,000 [troops], not to mention the equipment the troops will use, not to mention the other staff we will need in the mission. Nothing. So I am really, really concerned.

Plus, there ' s no peace deal yet. How can you be expected to provide security when there ' s no peace deal?
Lack of peace on the ground is definitely another big challenge because we are here as peacekeepers, and our job would be easier and smoother if there were a peace deal brokered for us. Unfortunately, right now, there is no peace to keep. So it has become another Herculean task to see that people are protected. We hope the talks in Libya [scheduled to start Oct. 27] result in an acceptable, comprehensive peace agreement for us and for every party involved.

So you must be feeling pretty stressed out these days.
If it were my younger days, maybe I would have been very stressed, but I have taken some courses in stress management and read a book called "Stop Stressing and Start Sleeping." Now, instead of crying over spilt milk, I look at tomorrow and what I can achieve.