Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on ISIS

Reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on ISIS

Mr Alex Yam Ziming: To ask the Minister for Defence (a) how many troops are currently deployed to support the coalition against ISIS; (b) what has been their involvement so far; and (c) whether the Ministry expects there to be requests for greater support from Singapore in the near to medium term.

Dr Ng Eng Hen: As informed to this House in November last year, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will support the multinational coalition against the extremist threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

I stated then in November the reasons for Singapore's strong stand against extremist terrorism. If I can quote: "Singapore must resolutely oppose the spread of terrorism in order to safeguard our security here. It is in Singapore's interest to support the multinational efforts against ISIS and its attempts to export terrorism to our region, whether by sending foreign terrorists to carry out terrorist operations or by radicalising regional elements who engage in violence in Iraq, Syria and subsequently their home countries. If this terrorism threat is allowed to grow and spread, innocent civilians here and elsewhere could be endangered and killed." This was in November. Unfortunately, Members would know that in the intervening months, the events in other countries have confirmed in stark terms that regardless of geographical distances, the threat of extremists, if not addressed, can result in terrorist attacks on residents in home countries.

What radical elements like ISIS are perpetrating have nothing to do with Islam, which teaches love, compassion and amity. Unfortunately, their false extremist ideology of these groups have attracted fighters from foreign lands and radicalised individuals to carry out atrocious acts in their home countries against innocent civilians of all races and religions, including Muslims. An estimated 1,000 foreign fighters are joining ISIS each month. While airstrikes have degraded ISIS' oil-refining capacity and resulted in a fall in its oil revenue, ISIS reportedly continues to fund its operations from ransom money and human trafficking.

More countries have joined the coalition against ISIS because they recognise that unless the source of this radicalisation is disrupted, their citizens at home cannot be protected. During the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, you will remember that bombs exploded in Bali and Jakarta. If this can happen in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, it can happen anywhere, and all countries and their citizens are at risk from extremist terrorists. Our neighbours understand this threat and this is why Malaysia has also increased its vigilance.

More than 40 nations in the coalition are contributing military capabilities to operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. These countries include Morocco, Jordan and Qatar, nearby countries that are at higher risk of reprisals from ISIS. But these neighbouring countries all recognise that a greater threat will exist if ISIS grows.

The combined efforts of many countries are having an impact in the fight against ISIS. To date, a number of key ISIS leaders have been killed. Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces have also regained about 700 square km of ISIS-captured territory and halted ISIS' attempts to seize new territory. ISIS is now largely in a defensive fight to hold on to its territory and to protect its lines of communication and resupply. In Iraq, the key coalition gains have been in positions around Baghdad, which have blocked ISIS' movement southwards, parts near Fallujah, as well as the Mosul Dam. In December, Kurdish forces launched an offensive to retake Mount Sinjar, which is strategically located as it links Mosul, the main ISIS stronghold in Iraq, and ISIS territory in Syria. In Syria, Kurdish forces are in control of the majority of Kobani, a strategic town as it lies just south of the border with Turkey.

Let me now report on the progress of the SAF's efforts, which the Member has asked. Following the announcement in November last year, the SAF sent a Needs Assessment and Survey Team to the United States Central Command Headquarters. A liaison officer has also been attached there since December last year, to facilitate planning and coordination for the SAF.

Over the next few months, the SAF will further deploy planners to the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Centre. We will also be sending a Pre-Deployment Site Survey team to prepare for our subsequent deployment of the KC-135R tanker as co-ordinated with the Task Force Headquarters.

At this early stage of our involvement, it is premature to determine if there will be further requests for greater support from Singapore to the coalition. Thank you.

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