Prince Harry serving in Afghanistan, British officials confirm
Prince Harry has been serving on the front lines in Afghanistan since December, calling in air strikes and going on foot patrols, Britain's Defence Ministry confirmed Thursday.
The confirmation came shortly after the news was leaked by an Australian magazine and a German newspaper, as well as the U.S. news site Drudge Report.
The prince, who is third in line to the British throne, has been in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province for 10 weeks and was to have remained until mid-April.
A lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment, he has been serving as an air controller, co-ordinating pilots and forces on the ground and calling in air strikes on Taliban fighters.
With the news now leaked, there has been no decision on whether to cut short his deployment and bring him home, British military officials said.
"His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary," said the head of the British army, Gen. Richard Dannatt. "He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else in his battle group."
In an interview from Afghanistan that was made public Thursday, Harry told the BBC the deployment is "massively important" and a "turning point" in his life.
"It's very nice to be sort of a normal person for once. I think it's about as normal as I'm going to get," he said, adding that he doesn't miss anything from home, even alcohol. The prince often made headlines for his partying.
Officials 'disappointed' in leak
Britain's Defence Ministry had announced Harry's deployment to Iraq last summer, but later reversed the decision, saying his presence could jeopardize the safety of his colleagues.
Harry has often complained he would quit the armed forces unless he is allowed to fight alongside his colleagues. When he graduated from military college in 2006, Harry told an interviewer he wasn't going to put himself through military school "and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country."
After his deployment to Iraq was canned, about a dozen defence officials quietly hatched a plan to send the prince to Afghanistan, CBC correspondent Adrienne Arsenault said.
A handful of journalists were invited to observe Harry on the battlefield under the agreement they would not report the information until the deployment had ended. The news blackout was intended to reduce the risk to the prince and his regiment.
Dannatt issued a statement saying he was "very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us."
Harry's father, Prince Charles, released a statement Thursday through his spokesperson: "Prince Harry is very proud to serve his country on operations alongside his fellow soldiers and to do the job he has been trained for."
Most British soldiers are deployed in Helmand province, next to Kandahar province, where roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers are deployed.
Harry is the first member of the British Royal Family to serve in a war zone since his uncle, Prince Andrew, served as a helicopter pilot in Britain's conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982.