Singapore to send officers, equipment to anti-ISIS coalition

Move is part of country's ongoing efforts to fight terrorism: Ng Eng Hen

SINGAPORE will contribute military personnel and equipment to the multi-national coalition battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a move that makes it the first South-east Asian nation to join the international campaign against the militant group.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in announcing the contribution in Parliament yesterday, said it was part and parcel of Singapore's ongoing efforts to combat terrorism.

It was similar to what Singapore gave to fight the terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah (JI) in the past 10 years.

The aid will comprise Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) liaison and planning officers being sent to the United States Central Command and the Combined Joint Task Force headquarters, a tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling, and an imagery analysis team.

All were previously deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But no SAF combat troops will be on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Instead, SAF soldiers will operate from surrounding countries with other coalition forces, he said.

In making the move, Singapore contributes directly to its own security, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a statement.

"The threat posed by ISIS affects all of us, in all countries. Singapore is not immune. Singapore needs to play its part and support international efforts to contain the threat posed," said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Minister.

His comments came in the wake of the latest wave of killings by ISIS fighters, who executed about 200 members of an Iraqi tribe that had taken up arms against them.

The two ministers urged Singaporeans of all races and religions to be united, to effectively combat the ISIS threat.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim also told Singaporeans not to interpret the move against ISIS as one against Islam, because the radical teachings of the terror group and its wanton waging of war are not Islamic.

In Parliament, Dr Ng warned that even terrorist groups based in countries far away can pose a direct security threat to Singapore.

For example, in late 2001, the Home Affairs Ministry disrupted an Al-Qaeda plot to mount suicide bombings in Singapore with the help of the JI terror network. Singapore joined other countries to deal with the sources of radicalisation in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Dr Ng.

As a result, both Al-Qaeda and JI are weaker today, he added.

But Dr Ng cautioned that the threat is long-term, and new groups like ISIS will emerge even as existing ones falter.

"When they do, we must not lose focus or heart in dealing with the threat from ISIS. We must continue with the approach that has served Singapore well and protected us thus far," he said in his reply to Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

Said Dr Ng: "There will be risks to our SAF servicemen as they carry out their missions. To mitigate these risks, we will ensure that our servicemen are well equipped, and receive additional training in weapon handling, and against improvised explosive devices and other hostile elements."

The deployment length should be reviewed annually, he added.

charyong@sph.com.sg

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