How do you fight an enemy that can strike anywhere and at any time, with little or no warning?
This is the conundrum facing security agencies seeking to protect their societies from terror attacks. In Singapore, agencies are boosting their capabilities to respond within minutes to a potential attack. The need for a credible response is crucial as the threat of an attack here has soared to the highest levels.
The fight in Marawi in the southern Philippines is especially significant. Since May, the country's security forces have been battling to wrest the city back from ISIS-linked militants.
Defeating them is imperative because if the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) entrenches itself there, the region could become a base for its militants to plan attacks on Asean countries. The importance for security agencies to be ready for such an eventuality cannot be overemphasised.
The first responders are the police, who have rolled out Emergency Response Teams trained in counter-assault skills, and Rapid Deployment Troops mounted on high-powered motorcycles.
But in the event of simultaneous strikes on several locations, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) may be called in. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said last week that the SAF is arming itself for such a situation by buying new equipment to improve its mobility and precision in urban counter-terrorism.
Together, the police and SAF comprise what security experts call the kinetic response to the threat. Even as they boost their capabilities, they need to ensure they work well together. This was underlined by Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman last Friday, when he told senior military officers that counter-terrorism was a "whole-of-government" effort that required seamless coordination among agencies.
One way to build up their capabilities is through exercises. Last October, a drill involving over 3,200 SAF and Home Team officers was held. Perhaps it is time to hold a similar drill, because only by validating their tactics and procedures would the officers be ready to deal with the real test when it comes.