THE Australian Defence Minster appeared to come unstuck in an interview shortly after committing troops to a two-year training mission with Iraqi forces tackling ISIS, when he failed to name the extremist group's leader five times.
Kevin Andrews declined to comment on the name of the leader in an extraordinary interview with ABC presenter Leigh Sales after it was announced that another 330 troops would be dispatched to assist Iraqi forces.
It was during this interview that he appeared unable to name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the leader of ISIS. When asked directly by Sales, "can you name the leader of ISIS?", he declined to answer because it was an "operational matter".
Sales told Andrews she was "surprised" that he could not tell her the name, considering the huge bounty placed currently on his head.
The full transcript from the interview is below:
Kevin Andrews: "Well, there's a cabinet of leaders in the ISIS forces and we're not just dealing with one organisation. There's fluidity between organisations and individuals who are involved."
Leigh Sales: "But there is a leader and a cabinet of ISIS, they run like a government."
KA: "And that makes it more difficult in terms of the overall objective we're seeking to achieve here. But we will continue along the lines that we are."
LS: "So just to be clear, who is the leader and what is the focus on his capture?"
KA: "I'm not going to go into operational matters obviously."
LS: "Well, can you name the leader of ISIS?"
KA: "I'm not going to go into operational matters."
LS: "I don't think it's operational, I think it's a matter of public record."
KA: "Leigh, 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 ISIS. ISIS operates not just in Iraq but across Syria as well and there is fluidity between groups. There's not just one group involved and not one just group of individuals involved and so we have to counter that as best we can over the coming weeks and months."
LS: "Minister, you're responsible for putting Australian men and women in harm's way in the cause of this mission, I'm surprised that you can't tell me the name of Islamic State's (ISIS) leader. The US State Department has a $10 million bounty on his head."
KA: "As I said, ISISis a combination of groups, Leigh, there is not just one individual involved in this. There are Australians involved in the senior leadership of Isis or Daesh, and there is a fluidity between groups that we've seen over the past few months in that area. There's not just one person involved, there's a series of people involved and we must ultimately destroy all of them if we're going to degrade their operations in that area."
LS: "The specific person who I have been referring is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi."
Australia already has 170 special forces troops in Baghdad advising and assisting Iraqi security forces. Another 400 Australian air force personnel are supporting air strikes against ISIS targets from a base outside Dubai.
The troops will work alongside 100 other New Zealand troops at the Taji base north of Baghdad.
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