M'sian Armed Forces versus Sulu gunmen in Sabah: Lessons for S'pore

The writer, a former defence correspondent for the Straits Times, maintains Senang Diri , a blog about Singapore defence matters ( http://kementah.blogspot.sg/).

SINGAPORE - A week ago, Malaysia's defence information officers were busy ramping up publicity for the Malaysian Army's 80th Anniversary celebrations - a happy occasion that culminated in a massive show of force by Tentera Darat Malaysia (Malaysian Army) in Port Dickson.

After a weekend on duty, their pace of work increased dramatically with real operations in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. Ongoing operations by Malaysian security forces against Filipino gunmen in Lahad Datu, Sabah, mean that it will be sometime yet before information officers from Cawangan Perhubungan Awam (Public Relations Department) at Kementerian Pertahanan (Kementah, the Malaysian Ministry of Defence) can enjoy a restful weekend.

The exposure to real operations in Sabah will reward Kementah's information officers with firsthand experience managing hearts and minds operations during an unfolding operation that has international dimensions.

Add in the timing of the operation, which was triggered during the run-up to the Malaysian General Elections, and the information officers entrusted to handle media operations will get a chance to learn invaluable lessons in calibrating domestic political considerations during an unfolding operation other than war (OOTW).

While it is early days yet before defence observers can compile a credible blow by blow account of the assault, here are some preliminary thoughts on the situation:

1. Malaysia's mainstream broadcast media, RTM, worked commendably fast in producing the clip with rousing martial music and TV footage aired at the end of Tuesday night's news bulletin that cavassed support for Malaysia's Fallen Heroes.

This is the type of psychological defence response that the Malaysians are good at, having picked up valuable lessons from the British during the Emergency years.

2. The casual attitude to personal protection equipment by Malaysian soldiers and General Operations Force field police has been noted by defence observers.

During the three-week long standoff against a force which claims has 200 gunmen and even after blood was shed, Malaysians deployed for security duty do not seem to care much for their personal protection.

* Body armour is rarely seen. When worn by some officers, the body armour appears to be of the soft body armour type which is not designed to withstand full metal jacket projectiles discharged from firearms or mortar rounds.

* Headgear in the form of ballistic helmets is almost never worn. And let's not even go into protective eyewear like goggles.

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