France set to cut 20,000 posts in armed forces

France’s drive to balance the books will see it delete 20,000 posts from its armed forces by 2019, French media reports claimed on Monday. The ground forces are set to bear the brunt of the reductions.

France set to cut 20,000 posts in armed forces
French forces prepare for the military intervention in Mali. Photo: AFP

A long-awaited white paper will be presented to President François Hollande on Monday, which according to a report in French newspaper Les Echos, will recommend scrapping 5,000 posts in the country's armed forces each year between 2016 and 2019.

In total 20,000 posts will be deleted over the four years, with the army bearing the brunt of the reductions.

France's armed forces have been at the forefront of some high profile recent conflicts, most notably the NATO operation to oust former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the recent military intervention in Mali against Islamist rebels.

According to Les Echos, France’s defense budget will be set at €179.2 for the period 2014 to 2019, which falls in line with Hollande's earlier pledge to freeze spending on the armed forces.

The decline in the strength of France’s armed services under Hollande is a continuation of a policy began by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who had called for the reduction of 54,000 jobs over the period 2008 to 2015.

According to Europe1 radio, the cuts will involve:

·         Reducing the army by around 7,000 soldiers, the equivalent of a combat brigade.

·         Downsizing the Air Force by around 50 military planes or 20 percent of its overall size.

·         Only minor cuts to the Navy’s budget because of its important Nuclear deterrent programme.

·         Minor cuts to special forces, who have been involved in the recent Mali conflict.

·         Forces currently stationed in Africa will also be spared any significant cut backs.

France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is set to present more details of the planned cuts later on Monday.

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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.