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Prince Harry patrols the Afghan town of Garmisir on Jan. 2. His presence in Afghanistan was supposed to be kept a secret by the media. ((John Stillwell/Associated Press) )

Prince Harry will immediately be withdrawn from Afghanistan after news leaked out that he has been serving on the front lines since December, Britain's Defence Ministry said Friday.

The prince has been serving in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province for 10 weeks.

"This decision has been taken primarily on the basis that the worldwide media coverage of Prince Harry in Afghanistan could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier," said a statement from the Defence Ministry.

Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup, Gen. Richard Dannatt, head of the British army, and senior commanders made the decision.

The ministry also asked that news organizations "refrain from speculating on his current location, timelines and routes."

The prince, third in line to the British throne, was to have remained in Afghanistan until mid-April. But those plans were scuttled after news of his tour was leaked Thursday by an Australian magazine and a German newspaper, as well as the U.S. news site Drudge Report.

Following the leak, the Ministry of Defence confirmed Harry was in Afghanistan. His duties have included serving as an air controller, co-ordinating pilots and forces on the ground and calling in air strikes on Taliban fighters. His military base has come under mortar and machine gun attack five times every day, the Daily Telegraph reported.

British media had entered into a voluntary agreement with the Ministry of Defence to keep his deployment secret and only report on his service after his tour of duty ended. As part of the deal, journalists were allowed to observe Harry on the battlefield and interview the 23-year-old prince.

Dannatt expressed his disappointment that foreign websites decided to break the news blackout.

Most British soldiers are deployed in Helmand province, next to Kandahar province, where roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers are deployed.

Harry, a lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment, 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.