Saturday, August 31, 2013
Should the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) fight in Syria?
Sooner or later, American officials tasked to form an international coalition to fight in Syria may come knocking on Singapore's door.
This is one civil war the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) should keep out of.
As a small country, our defence manpower (and by this we include SAF servicewoman) is limited, precious and comprised mainly of citizen soldiers.
SAF warfighters who have thus far shouldered the burden of operational deployments overseas are our Regulars. They form the core of the SAF, helping to preserve institutional memory and training standards which keep our citizens armed forces mission ready, 24/365.
The number of Singaporeans who have made a career out of soldiering numbers is small compared to our resident population size of around five million. This means that any call to arms issued for missions sanctioned by the United Nations (UN) or freelance affairs by the world's policeman (i.e. the United States) must be weighed carefully against current manpower taskings.
Even in peacetime, the picture isn't cheerful. Just ask any SAF Recruitment officer the pressures that come with meeting the recruitment quota.[One recent resignation letter is said to have come from none other than the Singapore Army's Assistant Chief of General Staff (Personnel) Colonel Ang Heng - in other words the Army's HR head - who quit to join the Land Transport Authority.]
The SAF's six-year deployment to Afghanistan should not be used as a precedent for future SAF deployments, whether under the UN flag or as part of any international coalition.
Americans tasked to round up a posse for possible military intervention in Syria must be clear that Singapore's A-stan deployment, codenamed Operation Blue Ridge, came about under circumstances that do not apply to the Syrian crisis.
Foreign military forces went to Afghanistan after the world witnessed the deadliest terror attack on September 11, 2001. This example of global terror was traced back to safe havens in Afghanistan which an international coalition was determined to disrupt, degrade and destroy.
Many of the free world's armed forces were sent to Afghanistan. This included military personnel from all the Five Power Defence Arrangement signatories - Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. If that mission was futile or ill-planned, then armed forces worldwide would be tarred with the same brush.
This was a mission Singapore could not sit out, particularly after our intelligence network found that authors of global terror had been hatching plots in Singapore before 9/11.
Had global terrorism touched our shores, it is clear that the fallout from a large-scale terror attack on our island nation will exceed the combined capabilities of the SAF and Home Team agencies as defence planners had yet to scale up our response plans for catastrophic terrorism in peacetime.
We have heard about plots to crash an airliner into Changi Airport. Schemes to initiate multiple bombings of diplomatic missions and the infamous video recce of the Yishun MRT station, which is a train station frequented by United States Navy personnel who come ashore from warships docked at the nearby Sembawang Wharves.
Expectations of assistance from abroad must be tempered by a willingness by Singapore to do its part, when circumstances call for it and where our resources allow.
As the world's largest anti-terror sweep unfolded in Afghanistan after the deadliest terror attacks ever, Singapore did the right thing by sending the SAF there.
Afghan politics is, without a doubt, complicated.
But the objective of rooting out terrorist safe havens carried on nonetheless. More than a decade later, it is clear that terror cells cannot operate in A-stan with the impunity they enjoyed pre-9/11.
OBR's six-year run which involved 492 Singaporean men and women deployed in-theatre and hundreds more supporting it from Singapore demanded a hefty sacrifice on the SAF's part. In retrospect, Singaporeans should be thankful that sacrifice was not paid for in blood.
This is why Singaporeans should be proud of the SAF's mission success during OBR. From start to finish, no fatalities. At the drawdown: ample respect earned from foreign armed forces who served alongside the SAF - to the extent that our ARTHUR weapon locating radars extended their tour of duty at the behest of foreign soldiers who appreciated the early warning these radars provided.
When duty calls, the SAF has done its part in previous operations under UN flag or as part of an international coalition.
The same cannot be said of the Syrian tragedy.
Unless mandated by the UN, Singapore should stand firm in keeping the SAF well away from Syrian soil.
Posted by David Boey at 7:24 PM