Exclusive Interview with Brigadier General Ahamed Mohammed

Exclusive Interview with Brigadier General Ahamed Mohammed


The Chief of Staff of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Office, Office of Military Affairs manages much of the world’s peacekeeping operations.


African Defense: Let’s start with an overview of the Office of Military Affairs within the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping. Tell me about the structure, organization and mission in general and then about your responsibilities in specific.


Mohammed: The Office of Military Affairs (OMA) works to deploy the most appropriate and effective military capability in United Nations peacekeeping missions. After a Security Council resolution to launch or to adapt a peacekeeping mission, the Office of Military Affairs prepares a military concept of operations and the support plans, identifies the member states that are willing and able to deploy troops and individual officers, and, once the mission is up and running, monitors the implementation of mandated military tasks. In the execution of these tasks we make use of our strategic military assessments and the military doctrine and policies that we have developed over time.


OMA works in particular for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Department of Field Support, but also other parts of the Secretariat and the UN when requested, and of course for member states and military components in the United Nations peacekeeping missions. To implement the core tasks, the office has 100 seconded military officers and 27 civilian professional and support staff from over 50 member states.

OMA comprises of the Office of the Military Adviser and three services and two teams, namely the Military Planning Service, Force Generation Service, Current Military Operations Service, Assessment Team and the Policy and Doctrine Team. Our military adviser is Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed from Pakistan, with Major General Adrian Foster from the UK as his deputy, while I am the third general officer as chief of staff. Taking into account the over 90,000 troops deployed in peacekeeping missions, this is a rather small office, with a very limited number of general officers.


African Defense: How are positions like yours filled at the UN?


Mohammed: This position is filled through a competitive international process. The posting is advertised prior to the end of the term of the incumbent to all member states. Member states are free to submit qualified candidates for the position. Of the offered candidates, UN headquarters shortlists those that have the prerequisite qualifications. Those candidates are then interviewed and at the end of the process, the best person is selected for the position.


African Defense: What are the primary roles of the Chief of Staff?


Mohammed: The tasks of chief of staff of the Office of Military Affairs include the management and central coordination of the Office of Military Affairs. This entails the prioritization and coordination of staff efforts and overseeing the internal management so as to ensure that the office works in an integrated manner at all levels.

In particular, the chief of staff is responsible for all internal issues that include human resource management and budget. I manage, direct and coordinate the work of the office, including budget, management of extra-budgetary resources, personnel recruitment and rotations, performance monitoring and evaluation and other management functions and cross cutting issues.


African Defense: What in your background of experience best prepared you for the chief of staff position here? Were there any surprises when you actual arrived and began working?


Mohammed: In my current and previous position, I successfully led and managed multidimensional teams to achieve results. In previous assignments, in Kenya for instance, as Commandant of the Defense Forces Memorial Hospital, and of the International Peace Support Training Centre, I dealt with a great variety of administrative and management issues. In the field, in United Nations peacekeeping missions, such as in the former Yugoslavia, and here in New York when I was the military advisor at the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations, I gained relevant and important experience that has assisted me significantly in my current post as chief of staff. As Directing Staff (Instructor) at the Command and Staff College in UK (Bracknell and later Shrivenham), I sharpened my skills in dealing with staff at the international level and particularly those from multinational and multicultural backgrounds.

In this light there were no big surprises after I assumed my duties here. Actually just a confirmation of what I already encountered in the past. It is amazing how military officers and civilian staff from so many countries around the globe, with different political, social, religious and cultural backgrounds, are able to work together so effectively and in such a harmonious spirit. I also was, and still am, impressed by the talent and commitment of so many in the Office of Military Affairs.


African Defense: Does your office have a role in recruiting countries to participate in missions?


Mohammed: Yes, the Office of Military Affairs is responsible for the generation, rotation and repatriation of military forces required for United Nations peacekeeping missions. This includes the generation/ rotation of individual selected personnel such as military staff officers and UN military observers as well as the generation/ rotation of formed military units (such as infantry battalions).

There are many things that come into play in choosing TCCs (troop contributing countries) for every mission. First we have to consider force requirements for each. Once this is established, we address the TCC’s capabilities to meet these needs while also considering the geographical location as sometimes, a neighbor may not be the best troop provider to a peacekeeping mission. We also take note of the level of acceptance by the host nation of each TCC. These are all very important factors in recruiting the right peacekeeping elements.


African Defense: What criteria goes into deciding what level of force is to be used? Whether that force should be more military versus more law enforcement? Whether the units should be combat support—like military police, civil affairs or engineers— or should they be more combat arms— infantry, special forces, etc.?


Mohammed: At the strategic level, the level of force to be used or planned in a mission is based on the tasks provided in the mandate issued by the United Nations Security Council. After a technical assessment and a comprehensive United Nations system-wide planning process (integrated assessment), including political, security, military, police, humanitarian, human rights and other aspects, we will be able to assess and suggest the capabilities that are needed, whether military and/ or police. Mostly a mixed capability is deployed in order to deal with the different levels of threats in the area of operations.

While designing the force requirements (the type and quantity of military units deployed to a mission) the military planning process for peacekeeping operations takes several factors into consideration. Amongst others these concern the mandated tasks, existing threat, available resources in the host nation and the phased approach of the mission. This will inform the capabilities to be deployed. The analysis does not stop at the beginning of a deployment as planning is a continuous process. Our office often conducts military capability studies, amongst others with visits on the ground, to verify whether the right military capabilities are still deployed and make necessary adjustments if required.


African Defense: When a unit deploys on a peacekeeping mission, it routinely will take its own contingent-owned equipment with it. What kinds of equipment, supplies and support is provided at a UN-level?


Mohammed: Yes, that is correct. We expect the unit to deploy with its full contingent-owned equipment to provide the full capability and capacity in line with the requirements of the United Nations. In fact, one of the key considerations in determining if a country can participate in a peacekeeping mission is if it can deploy the required equipment items. The ability of the country to deploy its contingent-owned elements and to provide self-sustenance for an initial period of 90 days is crucial.

The equipment includes the major equipment (such as vehicles, specialized equipment depending on the type of unit, heavy weapons, water treatment equipment, medical facilities) and so called self-sustainment equipment, which is required to ensure the living, sustainability and welfare of the units in the field. Self-sustainment includes tents/accommodations, communications and office equipment, kitchen and laundry facilities, tools and observation equipment.

The United Nations usually conducts the transport/shipment of all the equipment to the field and is also responsible for the rotation of the personnel after 12 months service in the field.

Once deployed, the UN expects the unit to be self-sufficient for the first three months. After that the UN takes over in key areas of sustainment including rations, water and those basic life support areas. As far as accommodations are concerned, after the first six months, the UN is expected to erect more permanent structures for living quarters and base camp facilities.


African Defense: In 2013, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of a force intervention brigade (FIB) within MONUSCO—which was a first. Does that brigade still exist? In a broader perspective, what were the lessons learned from standing up the brigade and then deploying it. Is this a model that could be duplicated?


Mohammed: Yes the brigade still exists and is helping to maintain peace in Eastern DRC. It is composed of units from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania.

Indeed, it was the vital military component in the high-profile and decisive operations that resulted in the defeat of the M23 in 2013 which significantly changed the security landscape in Eastern DRC and created the much needed space for conflict resolution. Since then they have been a very effective deterrence to further conflict.

We are now studying how to make the FIB even more effective. Being the first in a number of ways, we have learnt some valuable lessons. From the FIB experience, we now have a better appreciation of the use of force as a peacekeeping concept. While we have always known that most problems that necessitate peacekeeping require more than a military solution, the FIB brought this to the fore vividly.

Operationally, the FIB, despite its very robust mandate, has been able to comply with the dictates of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In its three years of existence and operations, there has been no report of IHL violation. Utmost regard for protection of civilians have been guiding principles in the use of force by the FIB.

Also, the FIB underscored the need not just for a proper understanding of the prevailing threats in a mission area but also how those threats might evolve over time. Equally, we have picked up valuable lessons on how to improve our administrative and support arrangements (for example, command and control of enabler units like engineers and aviation) to adapt to high tempo operations like those the FIB conducted in 2013.

As you know, no two circumstances are exactly the same. While the FIB model is not a silver bullet for every difficult mission, it is one that could be replicated elsewhere on a case-by-case basis.


African Defense: Is there an effort to make available more specialized systems that may not be commonly available in some peacekeeping country’s units such as unmanned aerial systems, night vision devices, force protection systems, etc,?


Mohammed: Yes, efforts are being made through a wider and more cooperative engagement with the member states. We have established the Strategic Force Generation Capability Planning Cell to facilitate the engagement with member states and to define trends in UN peacekeeping, to articulate the UN requirements and to determine what capability could be provided by the respective member states. We are going to assess the capabilities and will establish an overview on capabilities and shortfalls of member states and see if we can encourage TCCs to provide the required capabilities.

We are also looking into technological developments and capabilities to be provided by member states, such as UAVs, camp protection and environmental friendly capabilities. Member states are willing to provide such capabilities and we have to evaluate how to effectively and efficiently deploy such capabilities.


African Defense: Has the UN set basic pre-deployment training standards so that all troops arriving in-country will have common training and standards?


Mohammed: From our past experiences we have seen the need to emphasize training and well-prepared troops. It is in this regard that we require pre-deployment training.

Pre-deployment training standards are well defined and the Integrated Training Service (ITS) provides the guidelines and material for the conduct of the training, the Core Pre- Deployment Training Modules (CPTMs). ITS is also available to conduct train-the–trainer courses at national or regional training centers to help and assist the member states in the training preparations.

As part of the deployment process we are following up with the member states to determine if the training was conducted (as per UN standards) and also ask the TCCs to provide a certification prior to any deployment/rotation that, besides operational/personnel selection requirements, certifies that the training was successfully conducted for all personnel to be deployed.

We are currently working on a guideline document to help TCCs and future TCCs to prepare their units prior to a deployment. This document defines pre-requisite skills at individual and collective level and offers a progressive training cycle. This document is under development and completes the Operational Readiness Assurance and Performance Improvement policy promulgated in December 2015.


African Defense: There have been some unacceptable, perhaps even criminal actions by a few peacekeepers on sanctioned missions over the years? What is your office’s responsibility to make sure that each participating country is aware of the expected code of conduct and to ensure that it is understood not only at a senior command level but that it is known and understood down to and at individual peacekeeper level? Is there a watchdog office within the Peacekeeping Department that keeps an eye on morale and peacekeeper interaction with local populations?


Mohammed: Sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping is unacceptable. The UN maintains a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

This is a problem and we are committed to addressing at all levels. This is a shared responsibility with troop contributing countries, and we depend on a strong partnership with member states to do so. Working together, we must ensure accountability and transparency.

We have strengthened our vetting process for military contingents. In April 2016, the Secretariat began vetting all individuals being deployed as members of military contingents or police units for prior misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, while in the service of the UN.

In terms of oversight, the Secretariat has asked member states to appoint national investigation officers (NIOs) within five days of receiving an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse, rather than the 10- day period normally required by the MOU. Some member states have started deploying NIOs as part of their contingents, or have a team of national investigation officers, with the capacity to deploy to a peacekeeping mission within three days.

In addition, there are military police units in all peacekeeping missions where troops are deployed. The force commanders also implement a non-fraternization policy on the ground, especially in areas where our military installations are in close proximity to urban and civilian populations. I should mention also that there are conduct and discipline teams in peacekeeping missions. These teams implement the mission strategy on training, prevention, enforcement and remedial action, and advise the heads of mission, force and contingent commanders on related issues.

Several measures aim to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation in peacekeeping missions, from awareness-raising campaigns in local communities to training. In terms of training, the UN provides pre-deployment materials to all troop- and police-contributing countries. Member states are responsible for training their personnel prior to their deployment in peacekeeping operations. OMA is interacting with TCCs to address the need for proper training before and during deployment. TCCs must certify that all unit members deploying to UN peacekeeping missions have undergone the required pre-deployment training in conduct and discipline, including on sexual exploitation and abuse, which are delivered in accordance with UN standards.

Upon arrival in the mission area, uniformed personnel receive further training on sexual exploitation and abuse, and, more widely, conduct and discipline training, which builds upon the pre-deployment training provided by member states. Finally, the UN is also launching a new mandatory e-learning program to strengthen training on the standards of conduct, as well as the expectations of accountability and individual responsibility in matters of conduct and discipline, with a special focus on sexual exploitation and abuse.


African Defense: What is the level of communication and sharing of experiences between the UN/OMA and the similar offices within the African Union or regional standby force organizations?


Mohammed: Coming from Africa, African issues are very important to me.

As a starting point, I will take you back to when I was the military adviser to the Kenyan Permanent Mission to the UN. Based on what we saw of peacekeeping efforts in Africa, a few of us came together and developed a paper that would ultimately become the foundation of the African standby system. As the concept evolved, we sent a team to the African Union with five regional African standby forces emerging from those discussions. It also led to the creation of the African Standby Force logistical hub in Douala, Cameroon.

Indeed there has been extensive communication and partnership between the UN/DPKO/OMA and the African Union at various levels, particularly following the conceptualization of the African Standby Force (ASF) in 2002. The ASF has been, within the overall African Peace and Security Architecture, a standby arrangement formed through pledges from the African Union (AU) member states and the regional economic communities and regional mechanisms to provide the AU with capabilities to respond rapidly to emergency situations.

There are five regional standby multi-disciplinary contingents provided by each region in Africa (East, West, North, Central and South), with civilian, police and military components. From the outset, the UN provided full support to the ASF continental framework. Security Council resolution 2033 (2013) and General Assembly resolution A/RES/67/302 (2013) both requested the UN to assist in the operationalization of the ASF. In addition, in line with the Ten-Year Capacity Building Program, DPKO/OMA has been assisting the AU in the development of the ASF and in building its long-term institutional capacity to plan, deploy and manage complex multidimensional peacekeeping operations.

In addition, OMA generates military planners who are deployed as part of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) in Addis Ababa and who serve as interlocutors with the AU. Recent coordination efforts include the conduct of lessons learned and review in close cooperation with the AU, on the transition from AU led to UN peacekeeping operations in both Mali and CAR.

DPKO/OMA coordinated with the AU and provided specialist advice on military planning, preparation of support, and establishment of an integrated facility to carry out joint operational assessments and analysis in support of the transition in CAR.

Another good example was embedding UN personnel in the headquarters of the regional force prior to the transition (Addis Ababa and Bangui levels).

We fully support the operationalization of ASF as this could serve as a bridging mechanism for the UN in which regional capacities are used for active combat or peace enforcement requiring early action or to complement a peacekeeping operation. This mechanism includes preventive deployment, in extremis (surge capacity), while UN engagement is used for sustained multi-functional support to the entire peace building process in the medium to long term, such as in Somalia and Mali to name just a few. This requires sustainable communication and partnership with the African Union.

It is in view of this the UN has a number of times deployed assessment missions to the AU. The objective of these missions were to evaluate the progress made in the operationalization of the African Standby Force; in particular, identify gaps and assess the requirements to enhance the effectiveness of the ASF to meet its most critical needs, discuss options to facilitate joint planning and finally seek elaborate innovative approaches and opportunities for strategic and operational support toward the operationalization of the ASF.

In conclusion, the ASF has the potential to be a beneficial tool for both the AU and UN to enhance options of standby or rapid response capabilities building on regional capacities, especially in Africa where over 80 percent of UN uniformed peacekeeping personnel are currently serving.


African Defense: What are some success stories on peacekeeping in Africa?


Mohammed: There are numerous past success stories on peacekeeping in Africa which provide hope to the ongoing efforts on the continent. One of the best, and early, UN peacekeeping success stories was in Namibia. This mission was successful because the country was committed to the cause, the internal parties were committed to the cause and the TCCs came very well prepared. The mission was able to start and conclude operations as desired and on schedule. After independence, some members of the TCCs stayed behind and helped Namibia build its armed forces and other institutions. Those countries as still held in high regard by Namibia today.

Mozambique was another great example of a UN peacekeeping success story. While the situation looked hopeless initially, the UN was able to intervene and bring peace to this country. Equally, Angola was a success story for the United Nations.

Another mission I should mention is Sierra Leone, where there were difficult challenges in its early days but a clear example of where the UN stayed the course despite those challenges. In fact, in 2000 UN peacekeepers suffered the worst attack in its history. And not only the UN but the African peacekeepers themselves did not abandon the mission. The African force commander was very committed to seeing the mission through to fruition.

Neighbors to Sierra Leone, both Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, can also be counted among UN success operations with the end of both missions expected next year.

Côte d’Ivoire is another example of where the government and the UN work in unison to ensure the delivery of peace and stability to the country. Their combined strength made it virtually impossible for other factions to cause disruptions to the process.

Liberia has gone through a very difficult period and we are happy that again the UN stayed the course. A unique element in Liberia was that after overseeing independence, the UN stayed to provide support both to the political process and institutional building to ensure that the country took off well.

Many of the issues in that region, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, are cross border and affect all countries—not just one—and those issues need to be addressed in their totality, not individually.

The lesson that needs to be taken for the future is that where there is a commitment from the national government and the UN, peace can be achieved and normalcy can be restored. Overall, the UN has significantly contributed to an Africa that is much better off and at peace with itself than two decades ago.


African Defense: Leadership and professionalism have been areas of personal interest to you. What is your message to African militaries about building a professional officer corps—and to young officers looking to the military as a career?


Mohammed: Thank you for this question as this is a subject very dear to me. I have been associated with the professional development of military officers. Indeed, I taught at the Staff Colleges in Kenya and the UK and have always enjoyed doing this. I need not over emphasize that professionalism and good leadership are key to the success of any military entity. In this respect nurturing these two elements early in the career of officers, and developing it as the officer grows in the profession is very important. Officers must be trained to be good field commanders and also remain good managers where they take responsibility and make decisions while also retaining accountability for all their actions. I should also emphasis that being a good professional officer does not only entail working very hard and continuous learning, but also being on the moral high ground. This implies full respect for International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and impeccable conduct and discipline both from the officer and those under his or her command.

In general, service in the African militaries is a career and many officers have taken this line very seriously. Most officers are self-motivated and look forward to providing their best service. The system should take advantage of and work to further build the leadership qualities of these officers through the various training institutions.

As a starting point to improve this at mid–career level, we need to ensure that our command and staff colleges are open to other countries in the region. As some countries may lack strong and effective institutional leadership educational facilities, it is important that neighboring countries share these capabilities. We stress this very strongly with all of our TCCs when they look to build internal capacity. I would also urge African countries to seize the opportunity and send their good officers to renowned defence colleges worldwide as this broadens the perspective of the officer to the benefit of the individual and the country. USA, UK, France, India and Pakistan come to mind in this regard.

With a strong educational and institutional background, it is critical we encourage young officers to work hard so they can rise to the top and not only lead national troops on international assignments, but also command multinational forces on those same missions.

It can be done, it has been done and we need to continue growing in this area.


African Defense: Any closing thoughts?


Mohammed: I very much appreciate the opportunity to serve in this office for the last three years. Overall I would say that the Office of Military Affairs is doing a wonderful job in terms of setting conditions for the provision of peace within areas of conflict. The work of the office and our partner TCCs is very noble.

OMA/TCCs, through a peacekeeping force, strives to bring peace to areas of strife and to suffering populations where governments have failed to protect their own civilians—and in fact are committing some of the atrocities.

It is very disheartening when there is a need and desire to send in blue helmet peacekeepers and the host government says no. A perfect example is South Sudan. From 2013 to today, while their people continue to suffer, the government refuses the full support that could help end the oppression and suffering.

It is important to have good government structures in place, however, there still needs to be a willingness to act. In Africa we have the early warning mechanisms in place but there must be a commitment to act sooner rather than later. Africa must take advantage of the mechanisms it already has in place and be more committed to providing peace and security to their people. Africans must act together to see its house in order.

We talk a lot about building capacity but I think, in some cases, we are beyond the point of building capacity and expertise. It is more about commitment. We have seen instances where an African Force commander leading African Union peacekeeping force is experiencing challenges in managing the mission yet when the same mission is re-hatted to a UN mission and he assumes command of the forces, the mission delivers the expected results. This was indeed the case in MINUSCA on re-hatting in 2014. This reaffirms that it is about commitment by the African member states.

I must also recognize that out of 90,000 overall, more than 40,000 troops from almost 40 (out of a total of 54) African countries are deployed in UN missions, mainly in Africa but also in the Middle East. We have seen a great number of African force and sector commanders, performing in an excellent way under very challenging circumstances. In addition, over 22.000 brave African soldiers are helping to restore peace and stability in Somalia under the flag of the African Union.

Furthermore I must give credit to Africa for being a first responder to conflicts in Africa. Gallant African soldiers were deployed to Mali and again in CAR. This is a very commendable act. It, however, needs the commitment and resources to stay the course and see the challenge through to the end. We need to build on this and see how we can deploy well trained, well prepared, well equipped soldiers. This is the only way we can play our rightful role in maintaining peace and security in Africa. By doing this, we will bring order and help to maintain peace and stability.




Brigadier General Ahamed Mohammed


Brigadier General Ahamed Mohammed has served in a variety of command and staff appointments in his 35 year career in the Kenya Defence Forces. His specialty is in national security, conflict management and international politics.

He served with the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the Former Yugoslavia as a Deputy Senior Military Observer. He has also been the Military Assistant to the Chief of the General Staff (Kenya Defence Forces). He has served as Directing Staff at both the Defence Staff College, Karen, Kenya and at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, (JSCSC), Bracknell and later Shrivenham, UK.

He was Defence Adviser, Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations, New York, between 2001 to 2004. He returned to Kenya in 2004 and was appointed Chief of Personnel, Kenya Army Headquarters. On completion of War College in 2005, he Commanded the International Peace Support Training Centre, Karen, Kenya from where he supported the initial works towards the establishment of the African Standby Force. Mohammed was brigade commander (Kenya Army Corp of Engineers) from 2008 to 2010. Thereafter, he was reassigned to be Chief of Operations, Training and Plans, Kenya Army Headquarters. He later went on to serve as the Commandant (CEO), Defence Forces Memorial Hospital, Nairobi where he led the Hospital to ISO Certification in 2013.

He is a graduate of Kings College, University of London with a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Defense Studies. He is also a graduate of the University of Nairobi with an MA degree in International Studies. He is a member of the Kenya Institute of Management and his awards and national decorations include the Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear (EBS).