CNB's elite syndicate-busting drug unit steps out of the shadows

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The highly covert Central Narcotics Bureau Special Task Force recently opened its doors to The Straits Times to showcase its skill, training and equipment.
When dealing with armed gunmen, a Special Task Force point man carries a ballistic shield weighing 8kg and slowly leads the team into a flat.

SINGAPORE - For almost 20 years, it has been operating with little fanfare, but when a major drug bust here is announced, there is a high chance the Central Narcotics Bureau's (CNB) elite Special Task Force (STF) was involved.

As many as 13 recent operations bore its trademark tactics - swift and stealthy action.

Until the CNB declared that a $250,000 drug seizure on Aug 24 was the work of the STF, the last known report crediting the unit for a successful operation was in 2014.

Formed in 1997, the highly trained unit is part of the CNB's intelligence division. It recently stepped out of the shadows in a series of videos on Facebook and Instagram called #CNB247.

The videos, which can be found on the Facebook page CNB Drug Free SG, showcase the STF's skill sets, including vehicle interception, realistic effects training - where officers are shot at with non-lethal marking bullets - dynamic entry, and unarmed combat.

A CNB spokesman said: "We decided to showcase the Special Task Force, as we wanted to highlight the good, tough and dangerous work that they do, putting their lives on the line to help fight for a safer and drug-free Singapore."

The Straits Times was given an up-close look at the unit's training regime over two days in late August.

Formed in 1997, the highly trained unit is part of the CNB's intelligence division. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

During a rigorous self-defence training exercise, this ST reporter was "stabbed", slammed down numerous times and shot at six times, while carrying a heavy 8kg ballistic shield in a room-clearing exercise that involved gunmen.

The last of the STF videos (#CNB247) was released on the CNB's Facebook page on Friday (Sept 7). It shows a team performing a dynamic entry.

The CNB said the gruelling training is necessary and the various exercises test the STF officer's reaction, firearm skills and resolve, all vital in high-risk operations.

The STF's senior assistant director, Superintendent William Tan, said: "STF is getting more relevant in today's context.

"We need them to be specially trained in our skills and tools to handle drug syndicates which are more sophisticated than before."

Some syndicates use closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to keep watch and stronger locks to secure doors to their hideouts. They also drive powerful cars.

The latest operation the unit was involved in took place on Sept 4, where nearly 1.5kg of heroin worth more than $100,000 was seized. Six people were also arrested.

The CNB said the unit primarily exploits the element of surprise. The men and women of the unit are trained to not stand out.

Following comprehensive surveillance of a suspected drug trafficker's residence, a strike team must gain entry to the home within 30 seconds, before the drugs are disposed of.

This was demonstrated during the training exercise ST witnessed.

Dressed in fire-resistant overalls and bulletproof vests, three STF officers breached a flat with ease, using tools like a bolt cutter and a mini-ram.

The unit is also equipped with the Xaver 400, a device which uses radar technology to see through walls.

To be a member of the elite unit, a regular CNB officer must first go through a selection process where physical fitness, endurance and mental aptitude are tested in various scenarios.

Only then would the candidate be eligible to take part in the three-month STF course.

Training then includes a month-long unarmed combat programme, where besides learning self-defence, candidates are taught how to disarm knife-wielding suspects and subdue them.

Supt Tan said the various types of training help to prepare the officers for real scenarios they will face on the ground, which includes suspects fleeing or putting up a fight.

Said Supt Tan: "The officers have different options - they have their voice, they have their hands, they even have their batons and they have their pistols.

"Which is the appropriate force to use? The use of force must not be excessive."

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