Correspondent's take

When the home turf becomes the new battlefield

The battlefield that a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier has to fight in has changed.

No longer must he prepare only for the hot war in the jungles, high seas and air. Just as important is guarding the home turf, thwarting threats from wrecking lives here.

As part of their evolving combat roles, soldiers will also be trained and armed to patrol the streets, especially crowded areas. The SAF troops will work in tandem with their counterparts in the Home Team.

 
 

As Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen declared yesterday in Parliament, the SAF will redouble its counterterrorism efforts.

His pledge comes just a day after his Cabinet colleague, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, outlined a multi-pronged approach taken by his ministry and the Home Team to fight terror.

Combining the capabilities and efforts of both security agencies is not only timely but will also boost Singapore's firepower against an unpredictable threat.

Forget the frontal assaults that countries used to train their soldiers to face. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has changed the equation with its cocktail of suicide bombings, gruesome beheadings and clever use of social media. The threat is greater than what Al-Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiah ever posed.


Security personnel on patrol at Changi Airport. SAF troops have patrolled Singapore's key installations, including the airport, since 2001. The police are also part of joint patrols at the airport. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Dr Ng gave a stark example: In the last three years, ISIS has not only matched but also exceeded the number of sympathisers and operatives that Al-Qaeda was able to attract in the last 10 years.

Soldiers must adapt to face down this new threat.

ISIS operatives have already formed networks in the region and even marked Singapore as an "attractive target". So it makes sense for Singapore to pool its security resources.

This, of course, is not the first time that the two security agencies are joining forces to fortify Singapore, especially in the post-9/11 world.

After all, SAF troops have patrolled the Republic's key installations - Jurong Island, Changi Airport and Sembawang Wharves - around the clock since 2001. The police are also part of joint patrols at the airport.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), who is also chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that in the event of a major terror attack, it may be necessary for the military to step in - both to engage and eliminate the perpetrators and to restore public confidence.

He rightly warned that the military's role in homeland defence has to be carefully calibrated because calling the military in to deal with minor threats will send the wrong message and get the public "unduly worried".

At the same time, there can be no underestimating the enemy. The SAF and the Home Team are moving towards breaking down any existing silos. After all, new threats call for nimble responses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'When the home turf becomes the new battlefield'. Print Edition | Subscribe