Prince Harry Returns to Britain After 10 Weeks in Afghanistan
LONDON – Prince Harry returned to Britain on Saturday after his secret deployment with the military in Afghanistan was cut short after 10 weeks by disclosures in the media.
His father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William, greeted him at Brize Norton air base in Oxfordshire, southern England, before they left together in a silver saloon.
Harry, a cornet — or second lieutenant — arrived at the base in a Royal Air Force troop carrier with about 170 other soldiers.
"As you can imagine it's obviously a great relief as far as I'm concerned to see him home in one piece," Prince Charles said before leaving the air base. "I'm enormously proud of what he has done."
He said Harry and Britain's Royal family were disappointed the prince had been forced to abandon his six-month tour after details were published in an Australian magazine and on a Web site in the U.S.
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"I feel particular frustration that he was removed unexpectedly early because apart from anything else, he had been looking forward to coming back with the rest of his regiment," Prince Charles said.
Soldiers who worked alongside Harry in the Household Cavalry unit are due to return to the U.K. in April.
Prince Charles said three soldiers who arrived home on the same aircraft with Harry had been badly wounded.
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He acknowledged it had been difficult to keep quiet about Harry's work, saying he had claimed that his son was on training exercises when asked about his whereabouts.
The soldier prince, with a kit bag slung over his shoulder, and wearing fatigues and body armor, chatted to a colleague as he walked down the aircraft's steps shortly after landing.
He did not speak to reporters as he left the troop carrier.
Harry, third in line to the throne, was withdrawn from his deployment after details were made public.
The prince's mission had previously gone undisclosed under an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and major news organizations designed to protect the 23-year-old prince and his fellow soldiers.
His elder brother William — second in line to the British throne — also is likely to serve overseas with the military, probably on board a Royal Navy battleship, the defense ministry said Saturday.
Officials said he could be deployed later this year on a tour to areas including the South Atlantic, the Persian Gulf, Pacific Ocean or the West Indies.
"It's our intention to give Prince William as full a taste of life in the Royal Navy as possible," a Navy spokesman said, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.
Police officers who provide Harry with personal protection in the U.K. are due to resume duties guarding the prince amid fears he could become a target for extremists.
Britain's domestic intelligence agency MI5 has aided police in a review of Harry's security, a government security official said.
In postings on known extremist Web sites on Thursday and Friday, self-proclaimed Al Qaeda supporters called for Harry to be kidnapped and executed.
One post called for the prince to be killed and a video of his death sent to his family.
The Washington-based terrorist monitoring SITE Institute said messages had been posted on two password-protected Al Qaeda-affiliated Web forums. The identities of those writing were not known.
A plan to send Harry to Iraq last year was canceled after British intelligence learned of threats by militants to kill him.
The government security official, who demanded anonymity to discuss counterterrorism work, said threats to Harry are likely to be an aspiration, rather than an actual plot.
He said widespread coverage of the prince's work in Afghanistan would make him an iconic target for terrorists, like other Royals, key lawmakers and symbolic London landmarks. "We will be looking into it, the question is whether these threats are serious or not," the official said.
Harry joked in Afghanistan that he was a "bullet magnet," a prized target for insurgents.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the young prince's safety is a serious concern. "What needs to be done will be done to protect Prince Harry," she told Britain's Sky News.
His work in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province involved calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions, as well as foot patrols. He spent part of his deployment at a base 500 yards from Taliban positions.
Conditions were primitive and dangerous, but Harry said the posting offered him a rare sort of freedom.
"I think this is about as normal as I'm ever going to get," Harry said while serving at a dusty outpost called Forward Operating Base Delhi.
Many of Harry's family have also seen combat — most recently his uncle, Prince Andrew, who flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War. Harry's grandfather Prince Philip served on Royal Navy battleships during World War II.