Diggers Express Frustration Over Strict Alcohol Ban At Taji Military Base In Iraq

30/04/2016 8:12 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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Australian special forces soldiers operating in southern Afghanistan are shown in this undated Australian Department of Defence handout photograph. Australia will soon announce a near doubling of its troops in Afghanistan in order to partner with Dutch forces preparing to deploy in the volatile south of the country, Australia's defence minister said on Monday. REUTERS/Handout/Files

Diggers stationed at the Taji military base outside Baghdad have expressed frustration at a strict alcohol ban which prevents them enjoying even a single drink on ANZAC day or at Christmas.

Some Australian soldiers serving as part of the joint ANZAC Task Group Taji believe New Zealand military commanders are responsible for the rules which apply to all members.

One veteran who served in East Timor and Afghanistan says the blanket prohibition is annoying his fellow diggers, because occasional small amounts of alcohol were allowed in previous combat campaigns.

"It's frustrating to think that even in Afghanistan we were allowed to have a rum in our coffee on ANZAC day but here the Kiwis have pushed to ban alcohol completely," the Brisbane-based soldier said.

Air Vice Marshall Tim Innes, who commands Australia's military operations in the Middle East, makes no apologies for the hardline approach.

"Considering where we are and what we're doing on this operation I think it's entirely appropriate and I have not heard one comment (from the soldiers) whatsoever regarding that."

The Air Vice Marshall insists his senior New Zealand colleagues were not responsible for instigating the rules.

"We chose not to serve alcohol here," he said.

The hardline stance has the support of Neil James from the Australia Defence Association.

Mr James believes the commander on the ground should always make the call on alcohol, particularly in a predominantly Muslim country.

"Only they can make this decision, they shouldn't be second guessed here in Australia by anyone.

"Only they can assess the situation, not just with the host country but also other allied contingents they're working with," he added.

Air Vice Marshall Innes has also ruled out relaxing the alcohol rules for any future occasions.

"There'll be no alcohol here in the middle of Iraq on this operation. It's a very isolated location and there are serious threats that are considered all times, so while it may seem that they're having a great time here there is also some very significant ongoing operations around the place, he says.

Around 300 Australian soldiers are stationed at Taji alongside approximately 100 New Zealand soldiers, in a mission to train local Iraqi forces.

The second rotation of Task Group Taji began its deployment in December and since the operation began over 6000 Iraqis have been trained.

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