Six years, almost 500 soldiers later, the SAF concluded its operations in Afghanistan.

The Singapore Armed Forces concluded its six-year mission to Afghanistan on 22 Jun, 2013. The SAF personnel who were deployed there will be recognized this evening at the SAF Overseas Service Medal Presentation Ceremony.



Spot Singapore: the SAF team put up a signboard pointing towards home.


A C-130 Hercules aircraft, operated by the Republic of Singapore Air Force, lands at Multinational Base – Tarin Kot, Afghanistan, June 22, 2013. Singapore has deployed nearly 500 soldiers during its six-year mission in Afghanistan, supporting coalition partners in specialist imagery analysis and intelligence support, medical support at a coalition hospital, and training of Afghanistan National Security Forces. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick)


Tribute to the 492 soldiers who took part in Ops Blue Ridge

Catch a glimpse of the SAF’s deployment in Afghanistan over the last 6 years and learn how the deployment contributes towards the prevention of the export of terrorism, and the humanitarian and reconstruction efforts 5221 kilometres away from home.

Video link : Operation Blue Ridge


Here’s a video on the SAF End-of-Mission Ceremony on 22 Jun, 2013.

Singapore Armed Forces end of mission in Uruzgan

Last week we said farewell to our good friends from Singapore, as they concluded their six-year mission to Afghanistan with a ceremony at Multi-National Base Tarin Kot.

Maj. Gen. Ravinder Singh, chief of the Singapore Army, Maj. Gen. Robert ‘Abe’ Abrams, commanding general of Regional Command (South), and Maj. Gen. Michael Crane, commander of Joint Task Force 633, attended the ceremony.

Thank you to all Singaporean veterans for your important contribution to our mission.

A soldier sharing his experiences in Afghanistan with Dr Ng (in grey shirt) and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman (in blue shirt) at the OBR exhibition.
A soldier sharing his experiences in Afghanistan with Dr Ng (in grey shirt) and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman (in blue shirt) at the OBR exhibition.

Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at the Overseas Service Medal Presentation Ceremony

Chief of Defence Force,
Chief of Army,
Senior Commanders,
Overseas Service Medal recipients,
Family members,
Ladies and gentlemen,
My political colleague, Dr Maliki.

Good evening.I am very happy to be with you here today. Today’s ceremony marks the completion of Operation Blue Ridge, or OBR in short – the longest and most challenging overseas mission for the SAF since its inception.Let me first acknowledge the contributions and efforts of the 28 servicemen who will receive their Overseas Service medal today. Amongst them are SLTC Lum Hon Yuen, SLTC Patrick Ong, LTC Pang Tzer Yeu and LTC Yong Yik Fung, who served in the Headquarters International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), HQ ISAF. LTC Heng Aik Fine and LTC Tan Yueh Phern led our Imagery Analyst Teams (IAT). ME5 Daryl Cheong and ME5 Ng Swee Yew were in the National Support Element (NSE) to sustain our operations. And MAJ Eric Teo led a six-man team to recover our people and equipment.

ME3-1 Hamzah (left) receiving his medal from Dr Ng.

Since its beginnings, the SAF has participated in more than 30 overseas missions, including various UN peace support and peacekeeping missions. Let me name a few to refresh your memories. In 1991, we sent a medical team to Kuwait after the first Gulf War. From 1999, the SAF was part of the UN peacekeeping operations in Timor-Leste for four years. In 2004, after the tragic Boxing Day Tsunami, I think very few here would ever forget that, we had to activate the SAF at a moment’s notice. In fact, the SAF launched its largest Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. We deployed 1,500 personnel, launched 3 of our 4 Landing Ships Tank (LSTs), eight Chinook transport helicopters, four Super Puma helicopters, six C-130 transport aircraft and two Fokker-50 utility aircraft, that was how large the scale it was, to help with the relief efforts in Indonesia and Thailand.

But OBR is the most complex and challenging mission the SAF has ever undertaken. The video clip you just saw does a fairly good job of describing what we did but for those of you who were there, it doesn’t tell the full story. Each of you has a story; each of you has an experience. As Defence Minister, I was conscious that we were putting our soldiers in harm’s way for OBR. But the decision for the SAF to be part of international efforts against terrorism in Afghanistan, though difficult and dangerous, was a right one.

Even prior to the 9/11 attacks, you will remember that some Singaporean members of the JI cell here had received training in Afghanistan. Thankfully, our internal security elements unearthed the JI cell. Many people may not realise that our JI members here, were already plotting and training before 9/11. These JI members in Singapore had gone to Afghanistan to learn how to handle explosives and guns. They were learning to execute missions. As they confessed and shared what they were planning to do, they were preparing to attack targets in Singapore, just as their counterparts were preparing to and did carry out attacks subsequently on targets in the US, Indonesia and elsewhere.

It was this recognition that terrorism was a global problem which could affect us all, that prompted our decision to deploy the SAF into Afghanistan in 2007. The SAF was there as part of the larger multinational effort to prevent extremists from using Afghanistan as a base to export terrorism to the rest of the world. The SAF was in Afghanistan to protect Singaporeans in Singapore too because if more terrorists went to Afghanistan, if more JI members went to Afghanistan, trained and built up their skills, you can be sure that our risks in Singapore, our risks to our loved ones, Singaporeans in MRT stations, work places – the risks will go on.

ME3 Yap saying the the deployment was a good experience which has led him to better appreciate the peace and stability in Singapore.
ME3 Yap saying the the deployment was a good experience which has led him to better appreciate the peace and stability in Singapore.

Knowing that we had to be in Afghanistan as part of the fight against global terrorism did not make it easier to accept the very real possibility of harm to our soldiers. I have been briefed and seen the footages not only of our own soldiers but international ISAF soldiers in Afghanistan and I knew that the terrain was tough. It was harsh desert. It was not something that our soldiers were used to; it was an unfamiliar and unfriendly environment. Afghanistan is more than 5000 km away. You look at history and history tells you that Afghanistan had fought many wars. The British tried, they pulled out, the Russians tried, and they suffered. Their history is so complex, tribal rivalries, the geography and history – long and torturous. When I visited Afghanistan in October 2011, everything I expected about Afghanistan I could see for myself. It met my expectations. You know that you are in a high threat environment, because we went to Kuwait to Afghanistan on our C-130 and you know that the threat in the environment is high when the pilots are wearing body armour and protective armour in the plane. I looked at them and thought, if they were doing it, I had better do it too. They were worried that people would shoot from the ground.

Even within camps, rockets were a threat to international forces, including SAF soldiers. IEDs were a constant danger on highways. We would read regularly of suicide bombers and even threats from Afghan soldiers – green on blue – inflicted injuries on ISAF forces. These were not just theoretical threats.

Our close partners who were deployed there suffered casualties – the Australian Defence Force (ADF) lost 40 soldiers and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) suffered 11 deaths in Afghanistan, of which 3 were in Bamiyan where the SAF had deployed alongside the NZDF. Every time a rocket landed in your camp, I would receive an SMS telling me the details. Or if there was a suicide bomber in Kabul, I would receive another SMS.Now that you are all back, I can tell you something. I had mentally prepared myself for that outcome where our SAF soldiers would be injured or even worse, killed in action.

As Minister of Defence, I thought it was my responsibility to prepare myself because we knew that we were putting you out in harm’s way when we sent you out there. These risks are part and parcel of the duty of our SAF men and women in uniform, each time they are deployed in missions.

I know that it will not be completely appropriate to say this when your family members are here, but it is better for me to say outright so that you know that when we put you in harm’s way, we are aware of the risks, and that we are mentally prepared. That goes into our calculations when we decide to deploy the SAF to missions. But I was also fully confident that despite these personal risks, that you would hold yourselves to the highest professional standards. I had that confidence in you, that risk and danger would not stop you. Once you were put on a mission, you would do your best.

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen interacting with servicemen who had been deployed to Afghanistan and their families after the ceremony.
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen interacting with servicemen who had been deployed to Afghanistan and their families after the ceremony.

I am happy to report that every SAF soldier deployed to Afghanistan, including the 28 we honour today, has lived up to our expectations and each one of them returned unharmed. For this, for each one of you that returned unharmed, we give thanks. Over the course of six years, we deployed nearly 500 SAF servicemen and women to Afghanistan. At our peak in November 2010, the SAF had almost 100 servicemen deployed in Afghanistan. We knew the danger; we put out equipment, our men, there.

Was it worth it? A resounding yes.

In these six years, the SAF has made a difference. It was not easy for our SAF servicemen and women to operate in Afghanistan. They had to deal with a volatile security environment, work in an unfamiliar culture, overcome harsh and unfamiliar terrain and adjust to extreme weather changes. Despite these challenges, you adapted well, and performed their duties to the highest levels of professionalism.

Why do I say we made a difference?

As a result, the SAF has made life better by providing the simple things, clean water, medical and dental care to more than 24,000 Afghan people. We have built a health clinic, hospitals, schools and bridges in Bamiyan. In Oruzgan, our surgical teams saved limbs and lives of soldiers and civilians injured by IEDs. Our Weapon Locating Radar teams were deployed to provide early warning against incoming rockets that posed a threat to some 4,000 personnel within the camp compounds. Our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Imagery Analysis Teams (IAT) provided vital intelligence that prevented potential attacks on the Afghan population and the coalition forces. Our servicemen also served in the ISAF Headquarters to coordinate and conduct round-the-clock operations. Our operations prevented more casualties and deaths.

In Kabul, the SAF helped train more than 1,500 officers and soldiers from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in areas such as artillery and Counter-IED. Now that these Afghan soldiers are better prepared to take charge of the security of their own country, it was timely to transfer the responsibility because we are not there to run their country.

We are there to fight global terrorism and get them back in charge of their country, secure it, take ownership, be independent, stop it from being a terrorist export Together with other ISAF militaries, the SAF wound down our deployments and officially completed them last month.

Your attitude and performance have done us proud. Why do I say this?

When I meet the other Ministers and Commanders, they tell me the SAF chaps are high caliber; they are professional and would serve with them again. That is the acid test. This is the feedback I get.

Our servicemen have received medals from our coalition partners in recognition of their meritorious service and outstanding contributions. I would like to quote Commander ISAF General Joseph Dunford, who said:

“The Singapore Army has been a valuable contributor to the ability of the Afghans to take the lead; from training their artillery forces to supporting us with our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, to assisting us in our strategic communications, to the medical and dental support. All these contributions by Singapore have truly made a difference.”

We also want to thank our coalition partners – Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the US – for their support while we were in theatre. We have learnt much from working with each of our coalition partners and we are glad to have stood alongside them in the multinational effort against global terrorism.

It was worth it because the SAF itself has benefited greatly from this overseas mission. Let us just pretend that you didn’t go to Afghanistan and this is a different ceremony. It raises your professionalism because you are put in a situation where you have been trained for and you know that your skills are up to the mark. I know that for those of you who were there, none of you thought that the rockets were dummy rockets. They were real and if you didn’t detect them, you would be in trouble. And when the WLR couldn’t function, you found some way to extend the operational time, because they were over-heated, because you knew that you had to get it functioning for that early warning. With each deployment, with each challenge, I think your operational experiences became much sharper. And when you came back, you shared those experiences, and as a result, I think we have a much sharper SAF today.

Indeed OBR succeeded because we worked as a team. SAF personnel here have also worked tirelessly in Singapore to ensure that our deployed soldiers were well-prepared and equipped to do their jobs properly in Afghanistan. Commanders and Family Liaison Officers of the deployed servicemen regularly engaged family members so that they could put their minds at ease while their loved ones carried out their duties in-theatre. They arranged for video-conferencing calls. They were your partners and these individuals have played an equally important role in the successful completion of our mission in Afghanistan. I think that it is appropriate that today, unit citations will be presented to the various Formations and Departments to show our appreciation for these efforts.

Six years have passed and today marks a significant milestone in the history of the SAF. You made a difference to the lives of the Afghan people and we have helped to enhance international and our own security. The stories of the SAF’s six years in Afghanistan, all your individual stories, are worth telling.

Dr Ng (left) being briefed by Chief Guards Officer BG Desmond Tan (right) at the exhibition.

I am therefore pleased to announce that the SAF has put together an exhibition to give Singaporeans a better understanding of our operations amidst the harsh environment in Afghanistan. It is not only going to be here, the exhibition will travel to the heartlands, because we want to tell Singaporeans what the SAF has been doing.

The exhibition will eventually be housed at the Army Museum. We have also prepared a journal entitled “Two Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Three Days” to trace our six-year journey in Afghanistan.

Why did OBR succeed? It could have been a very different story but it was a uniform success.

Why did it succeed so well? It succeeded because every soldier, each of you that was sent there, realised that you were a personal ambassador, you personally carried the flag of Singapore high, and you were conscious of your personal conduct and reflected what the SAF is capable of achieving. At times, many sacrifices were made, not only from you but also from your families. At these medal presentations, each time I meet your families, I ask them how was it, and some I know are carrying very young babies. I know that many of your wives, had to raise your children, even infants, alone, in your absence because some of you volunteered to be deployed there a few times.

Tonight, I want to say a personal thank you to each soldier, each of you, deployed in Afghanistan. You can feel satisfied that you have done Singapore proud by successfully completing your deployments in Afghanistan with the highest standards of professionalism and commitment.

I would also like to thank your families. I know that the long periods of worry and separation from your loved ones were difficult. I thank you for shouldering the extra responsibility here in Singapore. Because you took care of the family, our SAF soldiers had the peace of mind to complete their mission in Afghanistan. On behalf of all Singaporeans, I would like to thank you and your families, and express my deepest gratitude and respect to each of you.

Thank you, everyone.


Source link : Speech by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at the Overseas Service Medal Presentation Ceremony

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