UK Defense Chiefs Debate Keeping Prince Harry in Afghanistan

Britain's defense chiefs debated on Friday whether to withdraw Prince Harry from Afghanistan after a U.S. Web site ended a news blackout agreement aimed at protecting him.

Harry, third in line to the British throne, has been serving on the front line with an army unit in one of Afghanistan's most lawless and barren provinces since mid-December.

Army officer Brig. Patrick Marriott said Friday that what happened next would be part of a "well worked out plan."

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"It's always been considered it could break," Marriott said on GMTV.

He said the decision on whether Harry would stay in Afghanistan would be made by Chief of the Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup.

The army's commander, Gen. Richard Dannatt, said he was consulting commanders on whether Harry's deployment could continue.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the prince had demonstrated that he was an exemplary young officer.

"The whole of Britain will be proud of the outstanding service he is giving," Brown said.

Harry, 23, is the first royal to serve in a combat zone since his uncle Prince Andrew flew helicopters during Britain's war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982.

British officials had hoped to keep Prince Harry's deployment secret until he had safely returned, but they released video of him serving in Helmand Province after a leak appeared on the U.S. Web site the Drudge Report.

Tours to Afghanistan usually last six months; Harry has served 10 weeks.

Harry conceded in an interview filmed last week that when he returns to Britain he could be a "top target" for Islamic terrorists.

"Once this ... comes out, every single person that supports them will be trying to slot me," he said.

The deployment plan had been disclosed to reporters, with no specific date, but was not reported previously because of an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and all major news organizations operating in Britain, including The Associated Press. The news blackout was intended to reduce the risk to the prince and his regiment.

Harry was supposed to go to Iraq with the Blues and Royals regiment in May last year but the assignment was canceled because of security fears. Iraqi insurgents made threats on Internet chat rooms, saying he would not make it home alive.

Harry trained at Sandhurst military academy and joined the Blues and Royals as a cornet, the cavalry regiment's equivalent of a second lieutenant. After being held back from his Iraq assignment, the prince threatened to quit the army if he was not given the chance to see combat.

He said the news of his Afghan assignment was delivered by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Harry said his older brother, William, who also graduated from Sandhurst and is training as a military pilot, is jealous of his deployment. As second in line to the throne, Prince William is unlikely ever to see combat.

Harry has been in Helmand Province, where most of the 7,800 British soldiers in Afghanistan are based. It has seen some of the country's fiercest combat in recent years, with NATO-led forces fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.

Harry's work in Afghanistan has involved calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions as well as going out on foot patrols. He spent part of his deployment at an operating base 500 yards from Taliban positions, the military said.

Since Harry's arrival, his battle group has been responsible for around 30 enemy deaths, a Ministry of Defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Video showed the prince in camouflage fatigues walking across arid and dusty terrain, calling in air support, firing a machine gun and patrolling the streets of Garmsir, the southernmost part of the province. He has since left Garmsir, but his current whereabouts is being kept secret.