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.


Anonymous said...

The plan for terror was hatched in the caves of Afghanistan but it was created by the American when they want the Russian out

Anonymous said...

If OBR was worth it simply because of the threat presented by al-Qaeda, then a pretty strong case can be made for SAF involvement in any US-led operation in Pakistan, or even Somalia and Yemen, for that matter. Heck, a-Q affiliated groups are involved in the Syrian civil war. And what is the SAF doing about JI in Indonesia?

Mindef rhetoric on OBR tries to sell the terrorism angle, but my cynical gut tells me an element of arm-twisting from the US definitely figured into the calculation. I don't think anyone can predict with any certainty what will happen in Afghanistan after the US drawdown, so declaring mission success for OBR right now is probably somewhat premature. Everyone's efforts could jolly well be for nought. If, however, the mission was to placate Uncle Sam while showcasing how kilat we are, then by that yardstick, OBR was pretty darn successful alright.

At the risk of sounding like i'm try to disparage the contributions of our OBR personnel, Singapore's relatively small contribution barely made a dent in the problem, and that is entirely due to the sheer enornimity of the task. Mindef can't be that optimistic about our power to change the world, they've got to be aiming to make a statement of intent at most. And it was a statement that had to be made, given that our national interests were at stake. So, as you have rightly pointed out, OBR was the right thing to do at the time, and kudos to our people for having done it.

I agree that OBR should not be used as a precedent for future SAF deployments, but we would be doing exactly that if we ever start buying into rhetoric about how adventures on foreign soil can equate to security at home, without a more thorough examination (see paragraph 1).

p.s. I voted no, but some idealistic part of me wishes there was something we could do about the alleged attrocities.

AhBengSibehKayKiang said...

Seow Ah?

No trouble why for go look for trouble?

Singapore go Iraq is becos give Unker Sam face mah. Send Navy but no boots lah becos no UN mandate.

Singapore go Afghan on ground becos UN mah.

Also where we got fight? Assist lah, no fire bullets one unless is defense.

Syria no UN mandate. Some more America they themselves don't want to go in on ground (Got chemical)

What kind of question is this? If Syria become lobang and need help, then different story lah.

Anonymous said...

we went to afgan because we want to hammer A-Q.

Assad is the enemy of A-Q, what ever happen to the saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?

what is wrong with Obama? he cant tell friends from foe or does he have a hidden agenda?

Anonymous said...

As a small country, can we really afford to say NO to America?

a US president once said: If you are not with them, then America will consider you as against them, they don't accept fence sitting.

decades ago, America has shown its willingness to interfere in the politics in other country including ours for the sake of their own national interest, such as FRANCIS SEOW working for CIA.

If our govt repeatedly refuse American request, wont that give them the reason to support covertly or overtly our opposition parties as well as unhappy ruling party members into working for them against our national interest?

in the eyes of America, we are nothing more then mere planktons in the sea, they couldn't care less if our country goes to the dogs, as long as there is a govt that will bow and kiss their boots over everything and anything.

I voted yes, from the POV of our country national interest, if Syria must fall and its people die for Obama's pleasure, that is their fate, there is no reason in my opinion for singaporeans to join the Syrians fate out of compassion.

Anonymous said...

If ww say No to US, will the US say No to Singapore next time?

Anonymous said...

I think public opinion could live with PSO contributions.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with September 1, 2013 at 12:28 PM that in Syria is a clear American intention. You may think America is itching to go and kill people just because chemical weapons were used last week- that is a very simplistic assumption. Getting involved does not guarantee a friendly post war government in power. This applies to any revolution in Singapore as well.

It was also never proven that Francis Seow ever worked for the CIA. The case built against him as suspect as the story of Catholic clergy working with the Communists or Teo Soh Lung being a terrorist. It is only known without dispute that before his detention under ISA, Francis Seow ran for Parliament and lost narrowly with 49%.

There is no way for opposition or all politicians to work with the CIA. It would be picked up at the first instance and we know what would happen. If they have an
affair or dalliance, we know what would happen as well. Maybe that's why most of them are so quiet.

Anyway, let me understand your motivations. The PM has given no indication that we will be involved in Syria. Why are you trying to support Singapore's hypothetical involvement or argue against our disagreement in case he does? Just because we disagree first, you oppose it?

Anonymous said...

America cannot guarantee a friendly pro US post war govt would come into power, but America can keep on creating war after war, govt replacing govt until either a friendly pro America govt comes into power or that particular country sinks into eternal hell.

oliver north and the IRAN contra affair comes into mind.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The Syrian thingee is complicated as it is really a civil war. Singapore should NOT get involve ... yet.

But because the regime used Chemical weapons on civies (if it's true), then the US of A need to AT LEAST respond.

For practical purpose, the US respond should be measured, limited and controlled. Take out high value military targets including the regime's civil service infrastructure but just only.

This should send an enough message to the regime that for every time they use Chem warfare, they will face the consequence of lost/weakening to their military and gov assets. So this gives a "leg up" to the Free Syria Army.

As for the outcome of the civil strive, the Syrian people must stand up for their own and fight. It is best not to interfere...

Anonymous said...

Problem is, once you drop the bomb on Syria regime, and if the FSA looses the war, America can be dead sure they are not going to be welcomed in Syria.

IRAN will be most happy as it will now gain not only IRAQ but also SYRIA in their pocket.

And if FSA wins, will America find an open arm among the AQs in the FSA?

I believe that the chemical attack is probably an IRANIAN cloak and dagger. they got the most to gain from such an event.

Anonymous said...

I hardly think USA is going to blackmail Singapore into contributing ground troops for Syria. If they want, they should approach the Philippines. Demand some troops in return for continuing the military aid and help in the SCS that the Philippines has come to depend on. Although the Syrian government army would probably whip them.