A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
COS Cut for Mindef
Terrorism has continued to pose a major threat to the peace and stability of our region.
The scale of terror threat in our region has grown. Last year, about 900 ISIS-linked militants took over the southern Philippine city of Marawi and displaced over 400,000 Marawi residents. It took a concerted effort between the Philippine Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to recapture Marawi following five months of fierce fighting involving airstrikes and artillery fire.
Terror groups today have also operated with increasing coordination and sophistication, with operational linkages spanning across national borders. The Maute group militants behind the Marawi siege had links with pro-ISIS cells and individuals in the region, and leveraged existing smuggling routes to move funds, people and arms through ungoverned spaces in the region.
The Marawi siege in Philippines showed us how militants can effectively organise themselves and pose a credible threat to homeland security forces. This underscores the importance of improving synergies across the Whole-ofGovernment to ensure that there is a coordinated response to terrorist threats.
As such, how is the SAF coordinating with other government agencies to prevent and respond to the threat of regional terrorism today?
Some members have asked about counter-terrorism – Professor Faishal Muhammad, Dr Fatimah Lateef – and the SAF takes terrorism very seriously, so much so that we have to reorganise, train and equip differently. And members have pointed out, including Professor Teo Ho Pin how we now have the capacity to train 18,000 SAF national servicemen for homeland security. We learnt valuable lessons from Marawi, another painful lesson that someone else learnt, so we went there, we absorbed the lessons. I made a trip, DPM Teo made a trip recently, where they found out and they admit that they underestimated the problem, both the number of fighters and how well they were equipped. The terrorist fighters there were equipped – snipers had good weapons, heavy machine guns and they even had anti-tank weapons, and the terrorists conducted urban warfare against soldiers and policemen of the Philippine authorities who were not trained for that kind of fight. That’s why it took five months for the Philippine armed forces and homeland security to dislodge the militants from that city, and this after many lives had been lost and the city devastated. I think the bill they recently estimated will cost about US$1.1 billion. This is just one city. The experiences there confirm that the SAF is on the right track in building up our counter-terrorism capabilities. In the span of a year, we have trained some 18,000 servicemen for homeland security, and we started a new institute, called the Island Defence Training Institute. I talked about SAFTI City last year. When completed, it will allow our soldiers to train more realistically for homeland security and counter-terrorism.
Members rightly pointed out that we will have to do more with other government agencies to respond to these terror threats. We are working with the Singapore Police Force’s Frontline Policing Training Centre to conduct routine joint training and equip NSmen with the skills to perform these homeland security operations. At sea, the various agencies are coordinated, whether it is the Republic of Singapore Navy, the Police Coast Guard, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, or Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, so that we keep our waters safe.