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AFGHANISTAN

French Afghan pullback to start ‘within weeks’

French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday the withdrawal of the country's troops from Afghanistan would begin within weeks, as he paid tribute to four soldiers killed at the weekend.

“Our combat troops will begin leaving Afghanistan soil in the next few weeks,” Hollande said, adding that the withdrawal would take place “in order and security”.

Before his election in May, Hollande promised to speed up France’s withdrawal from Afghanistan so it would be completed by the end of 2012 – a year earlier than Paris initially planned and two years before a NATO deadline.

In a ceremony also attended by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, the four soldiers were given a military funeral in the courtyard of the Les Invalides military monument.

The four French soldiers were killed on Saturday in an attack by a Taliban suicide bomber in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan and were France’s first casualties in Afghanistan since Hollande took office.

A total of 87 French soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the start of NATO-led operations against the Taliban in the country in 2001, including nine since the start of 2012.

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ARMY

French army officers convicted after recruit died during initial ritual

A French court on Thursday gave suspended jail terms to three soldiers convicted over the death by drowning of a trainee officer during an initiation ritual at the country's most prestigious military academy.

French army officers convicted after recruit died during initial ritual
The three officers in the dock. Photo: AFP

Jallal Hami, 24, drowned overnight on October 29th, 2012, while crossing a swamp as part of an exercise meant to teach the Saint-Cyr officer school's traditions to new recruits.

A total of seven soldiers, including a general, were tried for manslaughter.

A court in Rennes, a city in France's western Brittany region near the Saint-Cyr academy, sentenced an army captain, a commanding officer and a soldier who has since left the military to suspended terms of between six and eight months.

Four other defendants, including the general who was in charge of training at Saint-Cyr at the time, were cleared of the charges.

Hami's brother Rachid, who had accused the second-year students behind the hazing ritual of running amok, reacted angrily to the verdict.

“You have betrayed my brother once again,” he said.

The victim's brother Rachid Hami, speaking outside the court. Photo: AFP

On the night of Hami's death, new recruits were told to swim across a swamp for 43 metres, weighed down by their helmets in 9C water.

The exercise was meant to simulate a beach landing.

To the strains of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries – famously used in the war movie Apocalypse Now – the recruits jumped into the cold water. Several quickly struggled and went under, gasping for air and clutching at others.

Organisers threw them lifebelts to help them out but it was too late for Jallal Hami, who was reported missing.

Firefighters, alerted an hour later, found his body at 2:35 am near the bank of the swamp.

During the trial the state prosecutor blasted the “madness” of an initiation ritual fuelled by “uncontrolled testosterone” and asked the court to give six of the defendants suspended terms of up to two years.

The prosecutor had however called for General Francis Chanson's acquittal.

Chanson's lawyer William Pineau had said that while the events were “tragic”, his client could not be held criminally responsible “because he did not know what really went on on the ground”.

Jallal Hami came to France in 1992 with his mother and brothers to escape Algeria's civil war.

Hami had for years dreamed of being admitted to Saint-Cyr, which was founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

His qualifications – Hami had earned a diploma from elite university Sciences Po, studied Mandarin and excelled at sports – allowed him to enter the officer school directly as a third-year trainee.

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