Singapore, Indonesia discuss ways to counter terrorism in first 'table-top' exercise

A common concern is the threat from fighters involved in overseas terror operations returning to the region, said Colonel Lim Kok Hong at the inaugural Singapore Armed Forces–Indonesian Armed Forces Joint Counter-Terrorism Table-Top Exercise. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Behind closed doors at the Sheraton Towers hotel, 27 representatives from Singapore and Indonesia discussed simulated scenarios such as gunmen attacking shopping malls.

They were taking part in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) - Indonesian National Defence Forces (TNI) Counter-Terrorism Table-Top Exercise, which started on Tuesday (Nov 28) and ended on Wednesday morning.

The multi-agency exercise, which did not involve actual drills, is the first such bilateral exercise that Singapore has held with a foreign military.

The participants hailed from the air, land and sea units, as well as the special operations forces, and the Indonesian national counter-terrorism agency.

They discussed terror scenarios involving incidents like a vehicle ramming into pedestrians, gunmen attacking shopping malls, and terrorists operating in regional waters.

A common concern for both sides is the threat from fighters involved in overseas terror operations returning to the region, said the SAF delegation lead Lim Kok Hong.

"When the foreign-returning fighters come through the region, they can choose to come into any of our countries, and the more information we share.. we (would be) better able to understand where they are likely to go to, then the agencies from both countries can be more alert and make sure they don't come in," he said.

Personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces and Indonesian Armed Forces, as well as the Singapore Police Force, held discussions on how to deal with scenarios such as gunmen attacking shopping malls on the last day of a two-day bilateral exercise on Nov 29. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released in June noted that Singapore was specifically targeted in the past year and the regional threat has heightened. With the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the flow of returning fighters to South-east Asia may increase, it added.

On a key learning point of the exercise, Colonel Lim, who heads the SAF Current Operations Group, said: "We find that the government agencies and armed forces have different areas of responsibility, but (we) must be very coordinated in the way we face the threat of terrorism at the seams of where the responsibilities meet."

He added that both sides are "very serious and interested" to make this exercise a regular one in future.

Col Lim's counterpart, the TNI delegation lead, was Senior Staff Officer for Joint Exercise Office of TNI Headquarters, Colonel Achmad Budi Handoyo.

A previous joint counter-terrorism exercise, a three-day event involving about 150 special forces personnel from both sides, took place in 2012.

Personnel involved this time included representatives from the intelligence, special operations, and Maritime Security Task Forces from the armed forces, as well as the Singapore Police Force and the Indonesian National Agency for Combating Terrorism.

The Indonesian delegation will conclude their trip with a visit to the National Security Coordination Centre and the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group on Wednesday.

The table-top exercise caps a year of defence cooperation marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

A flagship exercise between the two infantries, Exercise Safkar Indopura, came to an official close last Monday, while a combined fly-past over the Marina Bay area witnessed by top leaders from both sides took place in September.

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