British officials are planning to deploy Prince Harry quietly to Afghanistan in an attempt to deter him from quitting the army.
He is training at a remote British Army base in Alberta, Canada, from where he can be flown to the war against the Taliban without attracting attention. The death Saturday of the 60th British serviceman in Afghanistan means it could still be as dangerous a posting as Iraq.
The prince, a junior officer in the Blues and Royals, is receiving extra training on armored vehicles, particularly the Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle used by his unit.
Defense chiefs banned the prince, who is third in line to the throne, from accompanying his squadron to Iraq, where they are now patrolling the Iranian border.
The ban was ordered by General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, last month after a visit to Iraq when he was briefed about the threats to Harry.
Major-General Jonathan Shaw, the British commander, and intelligence officers warned of an insurgent plan to ambush Harry’s troop and kidnap him. There had been bomb attacks on the Scimitars then patrolling the Iranian border in an apparent rehearsal for his arrival.
It was also argued that if Harry were given a desk job in the operations center at the British headquarters in Basra, it would come under increased mortar and rocket fire, seriously impeding operations and increasing the risk to troops.
Harry had repeatedly made clear to senior officers that if he was not allowed to deploy on operations “to do his job," he would leave the army.
Whether a posting to another unit in Afghanistan would satisfy him is unclear, however. If he is forced to do staff work behind a desk, he would be unlikely to be happy. But if he goes on operations, he would again be at serious risk.
The Taliban are no less vicious than the insurgents in Iraq and if he were captured, his fate would be the same as if he were taken hostage in Iraq. However, with more troops in Afghanistan now than in Iraq — 7,000 to 5,500 — and with British soldiers serving at half a dozen locations, army chiefs believe they can keep him away from any media and encourage his fellow soldiers to stay quiet.
Dannatt conceded Harry was “extremely disappointed” to be barred from going to Iraq, but he ruled that the “specific” threats posed too great a risk.
Dannatt was said to be angered by media reports about Harry’s deployment to Iraq even though Des Browne, the defense secretary, had announced it in parliament.
The media also published details of his unit’s vehicles, what they do and where they are likely to patrol — but all of this information could have been pieced together from the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Web site.
The MoD said it did not discuss reports of where the prince was to deploy. Clarence House declined to comment.
The latest British fatality is a soldier from the 1st Battalion, the Grenadier Guards, who was killed in a Taliban ambush near Sangin in southern Afghanistan Saturday.
He was among British and Afghan soldiers who were helping local people to widen and deepen irrigation ditches. They fought off the attackers but the soldier was killed and four others slightly wounded.