Coalition against ISIS warn of threat posed by returning fighters at Manama Dialogue

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen warned that the defeat of ISIS will likely worsen the threat in Southeast Asia as fighters return to their home countries.
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen warned that the defeat of ISIS will likely worsen the threat in Southeast Asia as fighters return to their home countries.PHOTO: REUTERS
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen spoke at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Dec 10, 2016.
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen spoke at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Dec 10, 2016.PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - The United States is sending extra troops to Syria in a joint effort to drive terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) out of its stronghold of Raqqa, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter told a security conference in Bahrain on Saturday (Dec 10).

The additional 200 US troops, including special forces, will join 300 deployed alongside Arab and Kurdish fighters, who have advanced to within 25km of the de facto capital of ISIS' self-declared caliphate.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces said it will "begin phase two of the campaign, which aims to liberate territory west of Raqqa and isolate the city," wire agency AFP reported.

A US-led coalition has been providing support and training to the fight against ISIS, and the spokesman said coordination with the coalition will be "stronger and more effective during the second phase"

Dr Carter was speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, where officials took stock of the fight against extremism.

But defence ministers speaking at the forum also gave a sobering assessment of the global threat, warning that thousands of returning terrorists could slip home undetected and pose a threat to their societies.

 
 

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen pointed out that since the international coalition - of which Singapore is part - began operations in August 2014, ISIS has lost more than half its territory in Iraq and a quarter in Syria.

"Paradoxically, the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria will likely worsen the threat in Southeast Asia, my region. We expect the returning fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and a few from Singapore, who are now in Iraq and Syria, will likely return to continue their violent plots at home," he said.

At least 1,000 fighters from Southeast Asia have travelled to join ISIS. Officials also note that supporters pledging loyalty to ISIS have set up bases in the southern Philippines.

Dr Ng called on countries to step up efforts to combine resources, share intelligence, and build trust among agencies across borders.

He cited joint patrols by Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines to deter piracy and terrorism in the Sulu Sea, which have traditionally been used by terrorists for illegal movement of weapons and people.

Singapore has offered the Information Fusion Centre of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to provide maritime information, and worked alongside key partners to organise regular exercises.

Dr Ng also stressed that the battle against extremism is, at its heart, an ideological one. He cited the example of a 17-year-old student in Singapore who was radicalised by pro-ISIS material online in July, and was detected after friends tipped off the authorities. Religious scholars are now counselling him.

"In Singapore, our de-radicalisation programmes are successful, and we must counteract ISIS' propaganda before more young lives are blighted," Dr Ng said.

Earlier this month, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the threat of a terror attack in the region is greater than it was last year.

On Friday, Dr Ng was in Kuwait to visit SAF personnel supporting the counter-ISIS coalition at Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters.

The 11-man Imagery Analysis Team turns raw images into intelligence products.

In Bahrain on Saturday, he called on the country's Crown Prince Salman Hamad Al Khalifa and Prime Minister Khalifa Salman Al Khalifa. He also met defence and foreign ministers and officials of several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.