Apache gunner Prince Harry sets his sights on the Taleban
PRINCE Harry is to fly attack helicopters in the fight against the Taleban, after arriving back in Afghanistan for a new tour of duty.
The 27-year-old army captain touched down in the war-torn country in the early hours yesterday under cover of darkness.
It had been his ambition to return to the front line since he was pulled out of service in 2008 after his cover was blown.
Captain Harry Wales – as he is known in the army – will return to operations in his new role as a co-pilot gunner after ten days of acclimatisation and training to hone his skills.
The prince looked relaxed, if slightly tired, and gave a thumbs-up after his long journey on a standard troop flight from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to Camp Bastion, which will be his home for the next four months.
The Queen and Prince of Wales were fully briefed about his return to operations, and Charles is “immensely proud of his son”, St James’s Palace said.
Harry has made no secret of his desire to return to active service, and he has spent the past three years changing the direction of his military career from an armoured reconnaissance troop leader to an army helicopter pilot in order to be posted back to Afghanistan.
A St James’s Palace spokesman said: “He’s approached the deployment with a range of emotions like any other soldier and feels both pride and anticipation as he deploys for a job he’s trained for, for so long.
“Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honour to represent his country in Her Majesty’s armed forces, wherever it chooses to deploy him.”
After making headlines around the world for a naked romp in a Las Vegas hotel room, the third in line to the throne will now be knuckling down to the serious business of fighting the Taleban.
Harry was a second lieutenant with his regiment, the Household Cavalry, for his first deployment to Afghanistan and worked as a forward air controller, co-ordinating air strikes on enemy positions.
During this posting, he could carry out tasks similar to those he co-ordinated in 2007-8.
Harry’s return to front-line duty comes after 18 months of rigorous training, both in the UK and the United States – he won a prize as the best Apache co-pilot gunner when he qualified in February. He will fly various types of mission while in Afghanistan, from escorting RAF Chinook helicopters carrying troops or equipment to targeting Taleban fighters who have attacked ground troops.
Royal Navy Captain Jock Gordon, commander of the joint aviation group, said: “Captain Wales, with his previous experience as a forward air controller on operations, will be a useful asset.
“He will be in a difficult and demanding job. And I ask that he be left to get on with his duties and allowed to focus on delivering support to the coalition troops on the ground.”
Harry spent ten weeks in Afghanistan in 2007-8. Despite a media blackout, the prince had to be brought home after reports appeared on the internet, placing both his safety, and that of his fellow troops, at risk.
This time, the decision was taken to publicise his deployment. Being in the hot seat of an Apache helicopter, it is thought he will be further away from the enemy’s reach, although so far this year, Nato and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan have lost a dozen helicopters, in combat or in accidents during operations, resulting in at least 44 deaths. This included two US Apaches.
And the prince will be well aware of the growing number of attacks on foreign troops by members of the Taleban posing as Afghan soldiers or police.
In July, three British soldiers were killed at a checkpoint by a man wearing an Afghan police uniform. It followed an earlier attempt by an interpreter to kill two of Nato’s highest-ranking officers near Camp Bastion.
Last year, the prince suggested it would be pointless to undertake costly helicopter training if he was never to go back into combat. “You become a very expensive asset. The training’s very expensive and they wouldn’t have me doing what I’m doing,” he said.
“I count myself very, very lucky to have the chance to fly helicopters, and even luckier to have the chance to fly the Apache. It’s a fantastic piece of kit – it’s like flying a robot.”
In March, during an interview with American TV, he said: “All these people talking these stories of ‘Oh, he’s been trained as [an] Apache pilot, he’s never going to see active service, he’s never going to get to the front line’. These people live in a ridiculous world to even think that. You can’t train people and then not put them into the role they need to play.
“For me personally, as I said, I want to serve my country. I’ve done it once, and I’m still in the army. I feel as though I should get the opportunity to do it again.”
Before deploying, Harry said his goodbyes to his immediate family, staying with his father at his Scottish retreat, Birkhall on the Queen’s Balmoral estate, during the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of August.
His brother, the Duke of Cambridge, wished him well when they met at William’s home at Kensington Palace this week.
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