SINGAPORE: To deal with the growing threat of terrorism, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is expanding counter-terrorism training beyond the military’s selected active units such as the Special Operations Taskforce and the Army Deployment Force which was set up just last year.
From July, 18,000 full-time and operationally ready national servicemen will be trained each year to deal with homeland security, announced Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in an interview on Tuesday (Jun 27) to mark SAF Day.
There will be a dedicated training institution called the Island Defence Training Institute (IDTI) located in Clementi Camp, where soldiers will learn about search and arrest procedures, and how to use retractable truncheons. The curriculum will be adapted from the SAF’s existing urban operations.
The training will enable national servicemen to be deployed jointly with the Home Team in security operations.
At the same time, Dr Ng said the SAF will also step up its ability to respond to acts of terror in the air and at sea. He pointed to 2008 Mumbai attacks when militants entered the city by sea, and the September 11 attacks when two planes were hijacked, one of which crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
To improve maritime security, Dr Ng said the Republic of Singapore Navy will lead Government-wide exercises to refine protocol in dealing with incidents at sea. The Republic of Singapore Air Force will conduct similar exercises.
Both the navy and the air force will also upgrade their hardware and deploy more unmanned assets so they are prepared to handle a more varied range of threats.
“The reorganisation occurs against the backdrop of changing assumptions … that attacks that could occur in Singapore may increase in scale, frequency and impact,” Dr Ng said.
“It's a sobering change of assumptions, but I think we (had) better change to meet a heightened need, rather than be caught with inadequate resources.”
TERRORISM IS “ENDEMIC”
The number of terror attacks around the world has gone up by more than eight times in just 15 years - from about 2,000 at the start of this century, to nearly 17,000 in 2015, according to the Global Terrorism Database.
So far this year, major European cities such as London, Manchester, Paris and Stockholm have been hit.
In Asia, suicide bombers killed Indonesian police officers at a busy Jakarta bus station in May, while the conflict between Philippine government forces and Islamic State-linked fighters in the southern city of Marawi shows no sign of ending.
In Singapore, Dr Ng noted that terrorists had targeted the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, before their plans were foiled by authorities last year.
Terrorism is “endemic” and is here to stay, said the Defence Minister.
“Despite years of effort, you can't eradicate it. Sometimes it rises, sometimes it falls, sometimes it's catastrophic, and then you pick up the pieces and you start again. But eradication of the root causes is going to take a long time. It may never happen in our lifetime."
DEALING WITH TERRORISM “DECISIVELY” AND “AT SOURCE”
Dr Ng highlighted the threat of militants returning to this region, as extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq are being defeated. The ongoing battle in Marawi, he said, would be an “attraction” for such militants searching for a new cause to fight for.
He stressed that the SAF is committed to dealing with such problems "decisively" and "at source,” which is why Singapore regularly deploys soldiers overseas to support the fight against the terror threat. Dr Ng cited the SAF’s past deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said the SAF also regularly shares intelligence with regional partners.
When asked if Singapore is ready to send troops to Marawi, Dr Ng did not rule out the possibility.
"We have to help the Philippines deal with this threat because it is in our interests to do so,” he said. “If we are asked, in principle, yes, we want to deal with it. How we do it (will be) based on how we can make the most impact and where we are asked to help."
Dr Ng added that if asked, Singapore would also contribute to patrols with the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia in the Sulu Sea off southwest Philippines. The area is notorious for kidnappings, as well as the smuggling of weapons and extremists into the rest of Southeast Asia.
"Only a strong SAF can protect Singapore and Singaporeans from external threats," said Dr Ng as Singapore marks 50 years of national service.
"The next two decades or longer will not see threats diminish, but indeed increase – whether it is from conventional threats, maritime threats, terrorist threats, cyber threats – and the SAF is adapting swiftly to this new threat environment."