Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghanistan: Prince Harry To Be Pulled Out Of Combat Zone

Britain's Ministry of Defense has confirmed that Prince Harry is to be withdrawn from Afghanistan after news leaked that the third-in-line to the British throne has been secretly serving as a front-line combat soldier in Helmand Province for more than two months.

Prince Harry's deployment to a dangerous combat zone in southern Afghanistan was meant to last at least four months.

The youngest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana was sent to Helmand Province in mid-December only after an agreement had been reached with the British press and select members of the international media to not report his presence until he was safely out of harm's way.

But the British military has decided to withdraw Prince Harry from Afghanistan after the news embargo was broken on February 28 by German, Australian, and U.S. Internet sites.

The British Defense Ministry, which confirmed the Internet reports, has released video footage of Prince Harry that was recorded in Helmand Province during January and February:

The 23-year-old prince is one of about 7,700 British soldiers stationed in Afghanistan -- most of them in Helmand Province. He is the first British royal to be sent on active combat duty in more than a quarter-century.

The news leak about his deployment has prompted several British newspapers to call for his return, saying that he is a high-level target and that his presence in Helmand Province threatens the safety of other soldiers in his unit.

Taliban Response

The Taliban has downplayed the significance of Prince Harry's presence in Afghanistan. Taliban spokesman Qari Yusef Ahmadi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today that Prince Harry's deployment is a public-relations exercise that has no tactical impact on the fighting.

"That will not have much effect on the war because there are more experienced soldiers than him stationed here in Afghanistan. We look at him as an ordinary soldier," Ahmadi said.

But General Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, says news of Prince Harry's service in Afghanistan is a morale booster for both NATO and Afghan government forces.

"The presence of important people such as the Prince of England would have a great impact on the morale of all NATO forces -- particularly, British soldiers -- when they see important people of their country next to them at the battle front," Azimi said. "From political perspective, the presence of the prince in Afghanistan shows strong support for Afghanistan and war against terrorism."

Prince Harry arrived in Helmand Province seven months after plans to send him to Iraq were scrapped amid threats from Iraqi militants to kidnap or kill him. The prince reportedly had threatened to quit the armed forces if he was not allowed to serve in combat.

In Afghanistan, he has been responsible for calling in air strikes against Taliban positions. He also has taken part in foot patrols through villages and has been filmed firing a heavy-caliber machine gun at suspected Taliban positions:

For his part, Prince Harry describes the Taliban fighters he has targeted as elusive guerilla fighters.

"The Taliban are very good at hiding in their trenches. But it is somewhat like I could imagine World War II to be like. It's just no man's land. They pop up their heads. They poke their heads up and then that's it," Harry said.

"Then, if [British forces] are coming under a lot of fire, I call the air [support] in. And as soon as the air [strike] comes, they just disappear or jump down these holes or go into their bunkers."

Prince Harry has said he agrees that his royal lineage and celebrity status would be a threat the safety of the men under his command once his presence in Afghanistan is known to Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

"If I do go on patrols in amongst the locals, I'll still be very wary about the fact that I need to keep my face slightly covered -- just on the off chance that I do get recognized, which will put other guys in danger. The Gurkhas think it's hysterical, how I'm called 'the bullet magnet.' But they've yet to see why," Harry said.

British soldiers serving in Prince Harry's unit say that he has not received special treatment, or had a comparatively pampered existence, in Helmand Province. They say the prince has eaten the same military rations and lived under the same difficult conditions as other British soldiers:

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Freshta Jalalzai contributed to this story.)