Can Malaysia defend itself?

P Gunasegaram
4:25PM Mar 6, 2013

QUESTION TIME The way the entire Lahad Datu intrusion/ insurgency/invasion – or whatever else one may want to call it – has been handled raises grave doubts over Malaysia’s ability to defend itself without fear or favour against anyone who infringes upon its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

That it has allowed itself to be lulled into such a state of complacency and lack of urgency, and seems to have totally underestimated the enemy is quite astonishing. And when it moved in after much foot-dragging it had nothing but embarrassment to show for it.

How could the authorities responsible for security have allowed the situation to balloon into such a serious violation of Malaysia?

And how could Malaysia have continued to allow a claim on part of its territory to go on for such a long time, even appearing to cuddle up to those making those claims?

Remember, this is the country, perhaps the first in the world, to have successfully contained and eventually beaten back the sustained armed communist insurrection and then faced down a confrontation from its big-brother neighbour Indonesia in 1965.

Have we gone slack in the intervening years and have we begun to severely underestimate the many threats of terrorist groups in this region? Are we fully capable of dealing with a sudden armed incursion into our country?

Armed intruders

Just over three weeks ago a group of heavily armed intruders, variously estimated at between 100 and 400 arrived in boats from the Philippines and took over a village near Lahad Datu, causing alarm and fear among residents there.

That so many people were able to do this without being detected by the security forces not only indicates a severe lapse in intelligence but plain, old simple vigilance.

In an area which has had numerous incursions from terrorist and criminal elements in the past, the police and army should have been much more on their toes.

The intruders, who turned out to be supporters of the so-called Sulu sultanate which lays claims to parts of Sabah, had no trouble establishing themselves in the neighbourhood and settled in.

They claimed they were coming back to live in their homeland.

Our police and our politicians engaged in negotiations with them and wanted them merely to leave peacefully and everything would be over.

That was absolutely the wrong thing to do – our laws prescribe death for those in possession of arms, even if is just one single bullet, what more rifles and grenade launchers.

We not only used kid gloves, we send them food and water while we negotiated with them.

What kind of a way is that to deal with armed intruders? Should their religion be even an issue here? Is it not the duty of those in power to restore our sovereignty as soon as possible?

As an aside, Malaysia was formed in 1963 when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore and the then Malaya amalgamated. If I remember my history right, a referendum in Sabah and Sarawak was held before that.

If that referendum was held, what right does any sultanate have to claim Sabah? Why did Malaysia even continue to pay royalties to the so-called sultan?

And why did these descendants of the Sulu sultanate decide now, a half century after Malaysia’s formation, to come and claim their homeland?

After the first breach – the landing of the intruders without detection – the next best thing for security forces to do would be to surround them and issue a warning for surrender.

If that was not forthcoming, then move in with air and other support to crush them once and for all. It should have been over within hours,

But the negotiations went on, and on and on. It took the brutal killing of two policemen before our forces attacked. Meantime, problems were escalating in Semporna with gunmen attacking police there.

We attacked the area the intruders were holed up in with fighter bombers, bombing and strafing enemy positions. But when the ground operations to sweep up the intruders began, there was nothing – no dead bodies, no injured, no subdued terrorists.

How could these terrorists, numbering as much as four hundred according to estimates but probably comprising some 200 or so, have completely vapourised into thin air without a trace?

They were supposed to have been encamped in an area of 4 sq km which was surrounded by the security forces. How could they have broken through the barricades?

Was the bombing so inaccurate that it had not even killed one intruder?

Even if it had been that inaccurate how did the terrorists get past the tight cordon thrown around them by elite forces?

Lax intelligence, surveillance

A number of things are very clear from this train of events. First our intelligence and surveillance of terrorists in southern Philippines is rather lax, laid back and dangerously complacent.

Terrorists are terrorists no matter their race, creed or religion and have to be treated as the deadly menace they are.

There is no excuse for the complacency given the many acts of violence that have been committed on Sabah by criminals and terrorists from the Philippines.

patrol vessel boat 110907We need to be real serious about intelligence and surveillance. We must patrol our seas and shoreline much more than what we are doing now.

Second, we must make clear our policy of not negotiating with terrorists, with the only possible exclusion being when we need to do that to preserve the life of hostages. That will discourage terrorists from trying this again.

Third we need to know whether the bombs landed in the right places and if they did not why not. It was a rather small area whose coordinates are known with pinpoint accuracy.

And we need to know how the terrorists could evade a tight security cordon thrown around them and escape.

What are the implications for security if they are not found?

If this is the way we have handed a small band of armed intruders, is there confidence that our armed forces will be able to do better in all-out war? The answer is obvious.

Lahad Datu shows there is a lot we need to fix right now in terms of our defence capabilities – and that’s an understatement.

P GUNASEGARAM is publisher and founding editor of KiniBiz, a business news portal formed in joint venture with Malaysiakini. Although he was never a scout, he likes their motto: Be Prepared.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 8:18 am

    French news wire AFP said Malaysian security forces would be ridiculed for incompetence if it were shown that the severely outnumbered and outgunned group of 200 or so militants had slipped the dragnet. It further added that this would heighten fears of violence spreading.

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 8:24 am

    The answer lies in the ability of our leaders whether they have the wisdom to make the right decision (i.e. when to strike the enemy and when not to), though the Malaysian military is able to defend the country.

  3. #3 by cseng on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 8:33 am

    Can m’sia defend itself? No, it and the people now on the hand of those govern.

    Can those those govern defend malaysia? Did the 30min air strike and bombing kills any intruders? Or just palm trees and monkeys?

  4. #4 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 8:58 am

    Could umno defend us?

    Good question. Let me see. Our guys have tumeric powder. That’s lethal. One unfortunate fat indian guy (who umno saw as criminal) died recently because some such powder were thrown at his face. Yeah. CIA never knew tumeric powder could kill. They also have the very special – no unique – skill to pressure a person to commit suicide by self-strangulation. Bet MI6 could never do that. Not in the next hundred years. One more thing. Plastic water bottles and salt too. Dont ever discount the power of such simple daily items. For ordinary folks like us, they are common items. But umno’s special force has the necessary skill to turn those seemingly harmless items instantly into deadly weapon – deadly enough to overthrow the gobermen of a country. And really, the americans do not seem to know anything. Our umno guys could just walk into any american icbm silo and walk away with the nuclear missile stored therein on their shoulders without detection by anyone. And oh yes, nude squats. Its a wonderful tactic. And many many more beyond-top-secret tactics which I am not at liberty to disclose here. One more thing. Angkasawan. Yes. Just to set your curiosity going let me reveal one tiny fact. Our angkasawan can flip patties in space. But I am not telling you ppl the military significance of that ability. It is a secret.

    Anyway, let me add my two cents worth on the rather odd reaction by umno to the intrusion in sabah. Two (or was it three?) weeks of negotiation? But why negotiate with terrorists? One wonders. But wonder no more. To umno they are not terrorists. Because they are friends of umno. Their leader was invited to attend umno’s General Assembly. That means they are buddies and not enemies. And buddies do not fight each other, do they? So they talk instead.

    But when public pressure to act against the sulu intruders became unbearable what did umno do? Surely, the talking cannot continue. That is obvious. So for show (only a show) umno sent in the jets and bombed them. Hey, you missed your targets, umno. And because you missed, the intruders got away! It’s only a show. Umno is merely beating about the bush to shooo away the friendly snake.

    It’s only a show.

  5. #5 by Dap man on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 9:19 am

    One has to look at the dumb Ministers who were in charge of Defense all these years. The defense allocation was going into their bank accounts.
    That is the reason why several retired Generals have joined the Opposition.

  6. #6 by SENGLANG on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 10:04 am

    There are many things that just seem no right for Malaysian Defense Ministry. Despite big budget that amount to billions included sub marine, etc. We now see that commercial air plane were used to deploy the arm forces? You mean our Defense Ministry has no air force carrier? Or it is another privatisation ? What has happen to MAlaysia Government?

  7. #7 by Winston on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 10:34 am

    Say what anybody wants.
    The fact remains that the ruling party is not interested in the welfare of the people or the country!
    They are only interested in how to enrich themselves!
    That, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams!
    That, in a nutshell, is the story of the fate of Malaysia!

  8. #8 by monsterball on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 11:12 am

    Previously….we were the best…because we do not mix politic into it.
    Now…we are the worst…and all you need is to read the racist comment from Mahathir…and the unusual delay in combating the intruders.

  9. #9 by john on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 11:14 am

    The overall event seems downright VERY ODD.
    First, they came braodcast out loud all and sundry – nos, fully armed, with women along ?, funny dubious claim, in between event their conversation, to stay put steadfastly,,,,,, All seems illogical – end of the day doesn’t serve to strenghten their claim at all and FOOLISH ? – but, there again THEY ARE NOT ! Hence, ODD !.
    Then, on our side the response, actions, reactions – ALL also seems ILLOGICAL by the flow, sequence of events eg. at the end, WHAT HAPPEN TO THE BARRICADE ! and, and,,,,,,,,(just go through, does not add up at all !)
    (1) eight (8) precious lifes lost ! – C4 + Cousin must be accountable, they in charged and assured all under control initially !.
    (2) this event ended as “intended” – overnight suddenly, the state of our security in question and now could be exploited by “traitors” in view of G13. ( Example MaMak Kutty, to the extend of commiting despicable, traitor act of recruiting illegals “Malaysians” for votes / own preservation now. )
    (3) it did give C4, MMK a breather AN AWESOME DIVERSION ! and more ,,,,,,options ?,,,,,,
    Conclusion : No matter what’s odd or not, Maintain Focus On G13 and ABU !
    PR must regain Momentum now !!! Not be sidetrack at all !

  10. #10 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 11:18 am

    Truth is Malaysia is overwhelming hardware in a relatively friendly terrain so its highly unlikely our forces, unless completely incompetent, cannot win. The area is undulating terrains oil-palm and small towns, not jungles and mountains. There is not many places for them to hide which is why its actually quite impressive they have eluded capture.

    Who are they kidding – Its really on purpose they took out all the hardware and the overwhelming force to impress Sabahan. Lots of people are going to forget that Mahathir and UMNO/BN with their Project IC caused the problem in the first place.

  11. #11 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 12:07 pm

    ‘ Can Malaysia defend itself? ‘

    Man to man, NO.

  12. #12 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 12:11 pm

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    In a one-to-one combat situation, I will bet on the ‘intruders’.

    Our soldiers just don’t have the guts. They are just too soft.

    Sorry, but that’s my frank a.sessment.

  13. #13 by chengho on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 3:03 pm

    joining the the forces young man , no application from non malay for Army and Police recruitment ? Old man can join reserve forces

  14. #14 by on cheng on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 3:50 pm

    Non bumi are not joining the police n army, why? simple answer, GROSS DISCRIMINATION !

  15. #15 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 5:42 pm

    chengho not in the forces.

    What we need is just one chengho acting alone and all of those sulu idiots would freak out and run away in fear.

    Let us get chengho back from NY to serve in the royal military.


  16. #16 by tak tahan on Thursday, 7 March 2013 - 8:24 pm

    /What we need is just one chengho acting alone and all of those sulu idiots would freak out and run away in fear./

    No need to have to freak out,run away in fear or worst,slow death.Those sulu idiots would be so much amused and laughed and die an instant death just by watching and listening at the equally or more idiotic chengho acting and talking alone.Yes,we want chengho to blast them out completely from his holes! hahahaha

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