One day after confirming that Britain's Prince Harry has been secretly fighting with his military unit in Afghanistan since December, the government announced today he was coming home.
Citing security concerns for the safety of Harry, the third in line to the crown, the British Ministry of Defense released a terse statement today blaming foreign media for blowing Harry's cover, saying that doing so "without any consultations with the Ministry of Defense is regrettable."
Most major British media outlets had been in on the secret deployment, after promising not to report on it until the tour of duty was over.
Across the United Kingdom Thursday it was breaking news that Harry has secretly been serving in Afghanistan since Christmas.
He serves as a Joint Terminal Air Controller (J-TAC) deployed on the front lines in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. He has been coordinating major air support against the Taliban and taken part in foot patrols with his fellow soldiers.
All along, the public never knew.
But select press organizations did know. The Defense Ministry made a deal with British media outlets and the international wire services: They would get direct access to Harry as long as they kept his deployment quiet until he went home in April.
"All my wishes have come true," Prince Harry told the BBC. "As far as I am concerned, I am out here as a normal J-TAC and not as Prince Harry."
The Australian magazine New Idea published an article Jan. 15 quoting anonymous sources; the German paper Berliner Kurier reported on his deployment Wednesday.
Top military officials are also blaming the Drudge Report, which ran an item today, for irresponsible journalism.
"I am very disappointed that foreign Web sites have decided to run this story without consulting us," Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, said in a statement.
Bob Satchell, director of the Society of Editors, brokered the media blackout with the Ministry of Defense.
He told Channel 4 News, "This was a model of how an organization can work sensibly with the media by taking editors into their confidence and trusting their good sense." He said neither Buckingham Palace nor Clarence House had been involved in the news blackout deal.
Palace observers say Harry will almost certainly be bitterly disappointed at having his tour cut short
When a potential deployment to Iraq fell through last April, Harry said he considered quitting his army career.
It was Queen Elizabeth, his paternal grandmother, who had a central role in finding a way to safely send Harry to war.
"We have had lots of talks since April, and she was very pro-me going," he said. "I think she is relieved that I get the chance to do what I want to do."
"What the last two months have shown is that it is perfectly possible for Prince Harry to be employed just the same as other army officers of his rank and experience," read the Defense Ministry's statement. "His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary."
The prince arrived in Afghanistan Christmas Eve. A week later, he oversaw his first airstrike on a bunker system behind Taliban lines in which up to 15 enemy fighters had been positively identified from the air.
The BBC's defense correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the mission the prince is serving is a risky one, but he is intent on proving he can do the job.
"Obviously, he is a very, very high profile serving soldier. He will be someone who the Taliban and al Qaeda would be delighted to capture if they could."
The atmosphere on the streets of London was one of bewilderment. "I was quite surprised to hear that they managed to keep it as quiet as they did," said one Londoner. "I think it was very sad that it was leaked, and he must be very disappointed."
"You'd hope they wouldn't leak it while he was still there," another told ABC News.
Prince Harry has a nickname among his peers: the Bullet Magnet. But so far it has not proved true.
"I will still be very wary about the fact that I need to keep my face slightly covered on the off chance that I do get recognized, which will put the other guys in danger," Prince Harry told the BBC.
When asked whether he missed anything from home, the prince said no.
"I haven't had a shower in four days, I haven't washed my clothes in a week and it all seems completely normal," he told the BBC. He then added, "No, I don't miss booze, if that was the next question."
Royal watchers say this could be a positive turning point for the young prince. In the last year, he has made more news being served alcohol at various nightclubs than he has serving his country.
"It is much better being out here experiencing it rather than hearing all the stories of people coming back," he told the BBC. Now, at last, Prince Harry has stories of his own.