SINGAPORE: The United States and ASEAN members stand ready to help the Philippines in countering the ongoing terrorist threat in Marawi City, said Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Sunday.
Speaking to the media at the end of this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Dr Ng said this was the pledge made at a meeting between US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and ASEAN defence ministers as well as their representatives.
Following the recent attempts by Islamic State-linked militants in the Philippines to seize parts of Marawi City in Mindanao, Dr Ng said that the US, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have all offered help - in terms of information, intelligence or otherwise.
Dr Ng said that ASEAN members understood the implications if the situation there escalated.
Attacks are also likely on other cities in the region if terrorists in the Southern Philippines “entrench themselves”, he said.
“Marawi was, in many senses, a wake-up call,” said Dr Ng. He added that the number of terrorists, both in Mindanao as well as foreign fighters "drove home the point that it is not inconceivable that (it) could be an Asian version of Iraq or Syria."
SULU SEA PATROLS
Dr Ng also noted that Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines have started patrols in the Sulu Sea.
He said that their strategy is to disrupt the network of the illegal smuggling of weapons, humans and drugs - a network that is now also used by militants.
Dr Ng added that Singapore has, from the outset, offered to participate "in any way" the three countries deemed appropriate.
He said he was glad that his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts said they would ask Singapore about this “when they are more settled”.
“My reply to them is we stand ready to assist in the Sulu sea patrol or in other counter-terrorism initiatives when asked by others,” said Dr Ng. “It is in our interests to do so.”
Dr Ng also commented on counter-terrorism efforts and the growing trend of lone-wolf attacks, noting that such an environment makes it difficult for the intelligence community to track.
“If you are in your room alone and you somehow are just very influenced from reading websites or looking at pictures, deciding to conduct a lone-wolf attack or attack on two or three individuals, it gets very hard for the intelligence community,” said Dr Ng.
“I think we have to take this very seriously. We have to protect ourselves. This doesn’t absolve neither MINDEF nor MHA from the things that we need to do. But I think we feel all that much safer if all of us understand what the threat is,” he added.
With the recent terror attacks in London taking place as the security summit came to a close, Dr Ng noted that this underscored the point that the threat of terrorism was a global one.
In summing up this year’s summit, Dr Ng said it was useful that substantive issues were discussed, in spite of points of contention like the South China Sea.
“We judge whether SLD (the Shangri-La Dialogue) has been useful or not in terms of not how little disagreements it has,” said Dr Ng.
“Sometimes, the fact that disagreements have been aired and different positions taken is in itself a measure of success.
Dr Ng added that this was also a measure of a maturing Shangri-La Dialogue.