By Luke BakerLONDON (Reuters) – Prince Harry is to be withdrawn from Afghanistan after Internet leaks that he had been secretly serving on the front lines there for 2-1/2 months, Defence Ministry sources said.Military commanders have drawn up plans for his removal from the country but it is not known exactly when it will happen.
“It will be relatively quick, and it will be an ordered and dignified retreat, but there’s no need to rush it,” a source at the ministry said.Harry was made aware of the news leak shortly after it was broadcast around the world on a U.S. Web site on Thursday.
The leaks raised concern that Harry, who is on the front lines in Helmand, a dangerous province of southern Afghanistan, could become a “high-value target” for al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist militants.Harry, 23, was deployed to fight against the Taliban in December, seven months after plans to send him to Iraq were scrapped following threats from Iraqi militants to kidnap or kill him.
The military posted him only after the British media and selected members of the international press agreed not to report his presence until he had returned from a scheduled 4-month deployment.
The embargo was broken on Thursday after German, Australian and U.S. Web sites reported he was in Afghanistan.The breaking of the embargo, a rare agreement in Britain’s usually free-for-all media environment, infuriated the military.“Now that the story is in the public domain, the chief of staff and I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue,” the head of the army, General Richard Dannatt, said in a statement.
“I am very disappointed that foreign Web sites have decided to run this story without consulting us,” he said.During his deployment, Harry has been responsible for calling in air strikes against Taliban positions, has conducted foot patrols through villages and has fired on suspected militants, pooled media photographs and film footage have shown.
“His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary. He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else,” said Dannatt.In interviews given to reporters sent out to cover his deployment as part of a so-called “pool” arrangement, Harry said he was aware that if his presence in Afghanistan was reported it could make him a target for al Qaeda or other militant groups.“Once this film comes out … every single person that supports them will be trying to slot me,” he said.“Now that you come to think about it, it’s quite worrying. But as I say, now that this film has been made and now … people will know I’m out here, no doubt I’ll be a top target.
“Talking about his experiences on the front lines, Harry said: “I haven’t really had a shower for four days, I haven’t washed my clothes for a week. It’s very nice to be sort of a normal person for once.”It was the Queen who told him he would be allowed to go to Afghanistan.
Harry was at one time dubbed a royal “Wild Child” by the tabloids for his underage drink and drugs antics.Before he was deployed, Harry told reporters he sometimes wished he was not a member of the royal family as it made it difficult to do things that he enjoyed, including being a soldier in the army.
“I wish that quite a lot actually,” he said, adding his older brother Prince William shared the view.(Editing by Steve Addison)