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What's at stake in confronting ISIS

The Straits Times | Wednesday, Oct 29, 2014

Shi'ite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), sit together during training in Baghdad, July 9, 2014.

SINGAPORE - Singapore played its part in the international campaign to neutralise terrorist bases in West Asia after the 2001 attacks unleashed by Al-Qaeda on the United States.

As events have shown, fighting organised mayhem fuelled by a distortion of religion is an unending mission. The civilisational challenge now posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group is one more episode, only deadlier.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has indicated that Singapore is studying what might be an appropriate contribution to coalition efforts initiated by US President Barack Obama to weaken ISIS, as had happened with Al-Qaeda. It would be a response born of necessity.

After Sept 11, 2001, no country was safe from the machinations of a baleful ideology. This was illustrated by subsequent attacks in Indonesia, Britain and Spain. Singapore also had to thwart terror plots, and there were many scattered incidents around the world attributed to freelance operatives and groups which are rebootings of Al-Qaeda.

A decade later, risks have multiplied in the form of military-scale operations and random killings of individuals by not just ISIS but also other splinter groups in Yemen and the Horn of Africa. No less a comprehensive effort is required to protect the community of nations being threatened by ISIS, the best organised of Al-Qaeda reincarnations. It has claimed dominion over a chunk of Syrian and Iraqi territory, and its propaganda expresses its readiness to sow terror anywhere, any time, in pursuit of its aims.

Singapore regards itself as vulnerable to attack as a good many countries prominent in military operations against deviant Islamic militant groups have assets here.

Participating in active containment of the threat has undoubtedly to go hand in hand with eternal vigilance. For the post-9/11 operations launched by the Bush White House in Afghanistan and Iraq, Singapore offered logistical support, including transport planes, tank landing ships and midair refuelling facilities. Police trainers helped in Iraq, and intelligence was shared.

There are about 60 countries now engaged in differing capacities in the campaign against ISIS. Air strikes are carried out by only a handful of them, with the US bearing the load. Supporting nations understandably must weigh the probability of reprisals, but the risk exists whatever is done or not done.

Mr Obama has been frank in telling partners this would be a drawn-out campaign, punctuated by "periods of progress and setbacks". The best form of defence is attack, however, by taking the fight to the enemy. Countries which value their peace have to stand ready to tough it out as fighting amorphous forces may not end with ISIS.


This article was first published on October 27, 2014.
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