Sending team to Iraq 'in Singapore's interests'

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes remarks during a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, US on Aug 2, 2016.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes remarks during a State Dinner at the White House in Washington, US on Aug 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Republic is a terrorist target regardless of its contribution to effort against ISIS: PM Lee

Singapore is a target for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) regardless of its participation in the United States-led coalition against the militant group, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday.

He was explaining that the decision to send a medical team to contribute to the effort against ISIS was made with Singapore's own interests in mind.

Speaking to Singapore reporters as he wrapped up an official visit to the US capital, Mr Lee dismissed the notion that Singapore's increased contribution would make it more of a target.

"We are a target of ISIS anyway. The JI (Jemaah Islamiah) were looking for us before we did anything and before we knew they existed," he said. "If they see Indonesia and Malaysia as legitimate targets, all the more Singapore, (which) is a rational, open, cosmopolitan country, and not what they think countries should be, and therefore should be attacked. So do not think that by lying low, we are not going to be a target."

Mr Lee announced that Singapore would send a medical team to Iraq to contribute to the effort against ISIS at a joint press conference with President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Singapore has had detachments in the Middle East at different times since 2014.

It has deployed Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) liaison officers, intelligence fusion officers, an imagery analysis team and an RSAF KC-135R tanker to support air-to- air refuelling operations.

The Ministry of Defence said the deployment would be similar to previous SAF medical deployments during Operation Blue Ridge in Afghanistan.

As Mr Lee explained in the interview: "We will send a team, we will go and recce, understand the circumstances, understand how best we can work, and whom we are working with, and then we will see how we will do it. But we will do it."

The joint statement released after Mr Lee met Mr Obama in the Oval Office also mentioned that the Republic of Singapore Air Force was exploring the possibility of training in the Pacific island of Guam, a US territory that is home to the US Andersen Air Force Base.

Mr Lee said those discussions were still in the preliminary stages.

"The air force is always looking for opportunities to expand its training options because we are so airspace-constrained in Singapore. So we have fighter training in America, fighter training in Australia - we have a flying training school there, we have got a facility in France in Bordeaux," he said.

"And Guam, geographically, is a bit closer than these places... And the American forces are there, and there is a good possibility of us working together with them, and developing a training facility there."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Sending team to Iraq 'in S'pore's interests''. Print Edition | Subscribe