'Appalling': Defence Minister refuses to name Islamic State leader

The Defence Minister has come under fire for failing to name the leader of Islamic State during an interview where he outlined Australia's role in Iraq.

But it was his refusal to say who the universally recognised head of the Islamic State was that drew headlines on Wednesday morning.

"When it comes to IS who is the top leader and what sort of focus is there on his capture?" host Leigh Sales asked.

"Well, there's a cadre of leaders in the ISIL [IS] forces and we're not just dealing with one organisation. There's fluidity between organisations and individuals who are involved," Kevin Andrews said.

But Sales persisted asking three more times whether The Minister could name who the leader was, to which Andrews said he could not discuss it due to "operational matters".

"I don't think it's operational, I think it's a matter of public record," Sales said.

"I'm trying to answer your question as best as I can and that is ultimately our aim here is to degrade and to defeat ISIL," Andrews replied.

Sunrise's Foreign Editor Dr Keith Suter said it is "an appalling situation".

"He can't name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who) we've talked about on this program for well over a year, and then not being able to come up with an answer, he then tries to hide behind a national security blanket."

"So that also is another very bad sign for the Defence Minister."

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.

Australia's new mission contrasts with deployments over the past decade when troops conducted sweeping patrols across southern Iraq, occasionally contacting insurgent forces.

Mr Andrews said ADF troops would not accompany the Iraqi forces they train into battle.

"No, they stay, to use the expression, inside the wire. They won't be going outside the Taji base. All the training will take place there," he said.

The first troops will leave Brisbane as part of a joint force deployment coinciding with the centenary of Anzac.

A small number of Australian airmen served with the British task force in southern Iraq from mid-1915.

Mr Andrews said the mission would be reviewed continually but there would be a formal review after 12-months.

He said there had been an improvement with Iraqi forces ousting Daesh from the city of Tikrit.

"So we are confident that there will be more gains over the next year to two and that's what we've made a commitment to," he said.

Mr Andrews said 5000 Iraqi troops had already been trained by four international training missions.

Morning news break – April 15