Soldiers to step up patrols, training to combat terror

Military Security officer on patrol at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on March 23, 2016.
Military Security officer on patrol at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on March 23, 2016. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Patrols in hot spots like MRT stations, malls among moves to tackle heightened threat

More armed soldiers will be seen patrolling public areas islandwide as Singapore scales up its resources to thwart possible terrorist attacks.

The move was the most eye-catching among a series of measures announced by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday to fortify Singapore against the escalating threat.

Currently, round-the-clock patrols by soldiers are carried out only at key installations such as Jurong Island and Changi Airport.

Speaking during his ministry's Budget debate, the minister said the action is aimed at ensuring that the military can deal with orchestrated attacks - like those carried out in Paris last year and more recently in Brussels - in hot spots such as MRT stations, shopping malls and town centres.

The move signals Singapore's redoubled efforts to counter terrorism, with soldiers joining forces with their Home Team colleagues against this threat. To better equip units of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for this role, Dr Ng also announced other measures, including:

•Building a "high density" mock city, complete with high-rise buildings and road networks, to conduct "highly realistic" counterterrorism training;

•Boosting the firepower of its special forces troops, the first responders in counterterrorism and other contingency operations, by equipping the Special Operations Task Force with better tactical sensors such as palm-size unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) suitable for the urban landscape;

•Sharing intelligence information with the Home Team and jointly coming up with operational command systems in order to bring to bear the "full strength" of Singapore's security capabilities.

The new moves come just a day after Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam spelt out measures like increasing the size of Emergency Response Teams to deal with simultaneous attacks on multiple sites and strengthening the protection of hard and soft targets.

Dr Ng also said that Singapore is an "attractive target" for militant groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"Every shopping mall, every crowded place is an opportunity for violent extremists to target innocent civilians and cause as much suffering and mayhem as possible," he said.

Even if ISIS is defeated, another group will rise and take its place.

"They may not be in Iraq and Syria but there are a host of failed states that an extremist group can gain geographical foothold and take the resources, whether it's Libya or other countries.

"In cyber attacks and biological pandemics, Ground Zero can be anywhere," said Dr Ng.

During his 50-minute speech, Dr Ng also touched on how Singapore is faced with "troubled peace", which has now become the new normal in a globalised world.

He noted that Singapore also has to grapple with rising tensions in the region, for instance, in the South China Sea, which are the result of strategic rivalry and rising nationalism.

Defence analyst William Choong said that it is timely and necessary to exploit the combined training efforts and capabilities of the Home Team and the SAF.

Dr Choong, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "It represents a closing of ranks between both entities. Having them work in sync and in tandem will serve as a strong deterrent to anyone who is interested in launching an attack on Singapore."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Soldiers to step up patrols, training to combat terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe