Prince Harry pulled out of Afghanistan after news leak

March 1st, 2008 - 12:16 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
(Second lead)
London, Feb 29 (DPA) Britain’s Prince Harry was Friday recalled with immediate effect from frontline service in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province following a “regrettable” leak of news about his presence there in the foreign media, the defence ministry said. “Security considerations come first,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, adding the whole country owed Prince Harry a “debt of gratitude” for the courage and bravery he had shown.

Queen Elizabeth II, who was said to have given her full support to Harry’s deployment, said Friday her grandson had performed a “good job in a very difficult climate”.

The decision to recall Harry by the top brass of Britain’s armed forces came less than 24 hours after the prince’s 10-week deployment against the Taliban in Afghanistan was reported on a US website.

British media, meanwhile, adhered to a news blackout agreed with the government ahead of his deployment in December, in return for extensive access to coverage of the prince’s activities which was to be released at the end of his mission in April.

“The decision by elements of the foreign media to report Prince Harry’s presence in Afghanistan without any consultation with the Ministry of Defence is regrettable,” an official statement said.

However, after a detailed risk assessment, it was feared that the worldwide media coverage of the prince “could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier,” it said.

Harry, 23, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, is third in line to the throne.

Sources said his departure had become “inevitable” because of the risk that the Taliban would increase attacks on British forces in Afghanistan, where 89 British soldiers and civilian personnel have died since 2001 - 63 of them on active duty.

“In serving his country with distinction in dangerous circumstances, he (Harry) has shown the courage and determination that are the hallmarks in our armed forces,” said the statement.

The decision will come as a blow to Harry, a second lieutenant in the Household Cavalry, who has said that the deployment was a dream come true and possibly the only chance for him to be “a normal person”.

He was deployed in Helmand province as a battlefield air controller and Spartan light tank commander, involving frontline duty as well as giving clearance for airstrikes on Taliban hideouts after scrutinizing surveillance footage.

In a series of BBC interviews, released after the collapse of the news blackout Thursday, Harry said he knew he would be a “prize target” for terrorists in Britain if the news came out.

“Quite worrying, now that I think about it,” he laughed.

Patrick Mercer, a Conservative member of parliament and former army officer, said the decision to recall the prince would “hand a powerful propaganda victory to our enemies”.

“These people are not daft. They understand that bombs and bullets kill but they understand that propaganda goes right to the heart of governments,” said Mercer.

However, on balance, he agreed with the withdrawal because Harry had become an “operational liability rather than an asset”.

It was reported Friday that the news was first leaked in an Australian publication Jan 7, but escaped wider notice.

The timing and circumstances of the prince’s return to Britain are not known.

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