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French journalists return home after Afghanistan hostage ordeal [VIDEO]

Hervé Ghesquierè and Stéphane Taponier were joyously welcomed home after 547 days as hostages of the Taliban.

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The two were released following a December intervention with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, as well as the announcement of a withdrawal of French troops this month after US President Obama’s decision to draw down US troop levels. The Paris-based Reporters San Frontiers says the two are the final professional journalists held hostage that they are aware of.

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Unusually, for four months after their kidnapping the French government did not release the men’s names. The reason was to reduce pressure in negotiations, a tactic similar to that used by the New York Times in securing its reporter David Rhodes. It was the first time France had held back names of captives.

Perils of war reporting

Journalists here later criticized French officials for insinuating, once their names were known, that the men were irresponsible and perhaps culpable, since they left their embed. The issue of operating independently in Taliban areas has been a sensitive and highly subjective one among foreign reporters in Afghanistan: The calculation pits the reporter’s experience and skill with a desire to achieve a thrilling or significant story and includes the risk of doing harm to local translators, civilians or troops that may be called to rescue.

In this case, the men had war reporting backgrounds. They worked for a highly regarded series on France 3 television called “Pièces à conviction,” an in-depth report akin to “Frontline” on US public television or “Assignment” on the BBC. Their Afghan report focused on a road reconstruction project in the French military zone to the east of Kabul and was planned for three months.

After it was posited today that French military officials warned the journalists not to go to the town they were captured in, Ghesquierè offered in a slight eruption that: "No one had warned us against going there… We didn't start out climbing the North Face of Everest wearing flip-flops, far from it… We didn't go there blindly… Let me make myself clear: No one told us anything."

Ghesquierè said he looked forward to returning to a normal life and that he did not want to “play the role of an ex-hostage.”


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