Prince Harry, third in line to the throne but just plain Lt. Harry Wales to his comrades, has returned to Great Britain after his secret deployment to the front lines in Afghanistan was reported on an American Web site.
An unprecedented agreement to keep his mission under embargo had been honored for ten weeks by the British press, only to be broken by the foreign media.
That made Lt. Wales and his men just too much of a target for the Taliban. So his mission to Afghanistan -- the thing he wanted so much -- was cut short.
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He landed with 170 other officers and men -- some of them wounded -- on a windswept airbase in Oxfordshire, met by his father Prince Charles and his older brother Prince William, who he said was full of envy for his Afghan adventure. "It's a great relief to see him home in one piece, " said Prince Charles, adding that he was " enormously proud of what he's done. "
What the Warrior Prince had done was to serve for two and a half months at a forward operating base in Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan, just a few hundred yards from Taliban positions. His unit took enemy fire every day though he said, in a soldier's blunt language, that this didn't faze him.
" I can't think of a time that I've thought , oh s--- , this is not the right place to be, " Prince Harry said with a laugh, in one of a number of extraordinary interviews he gave in the field to British TV cameras. It was part of a deal struck between the British press, the Army and the Palace, to provide unprecedented access to L t. Harry Wales in action, in exchange for a complete news blackout until his six -month tour of duty was over.
The deal was good for everybody, as royal biographer Ingrid Seward said to me while we waited for him , along with a large press corps, in the bone-chilling cold of a wind-whipped airfield. " It's a very positive story, " she said. "It's good for the royal family. It's good for Harry and good for all of us. "
It was unusual to see the TV pictures of Prince Harry with a two-day growth of beard mucking in with his men, kicking a football around ,when he wasn't out on foot patrol or calling in airstrikes on the enemy.
"I haven't really had a shower for four days. I haven't washed my clothes for a week and everything seems completely normal , " he said , looking as happy as a clam. " The greatest thing is the anonymity. There is no need for me to cover my face or anything like that. "
But many were frankly surprised that Prince Harry's secret mission to Afghanistan was able to remain secret for as long as it did. Now that he is back in Britain, his personal security arrangements will have to be reviewed. His combat role in Afghanistan could make him a target for extremists on British soil , too. He is said to be deeply disappointed that his Afghan assignment has come to a premature end, and very sorry to leave his men behind. But as a member of the royal family , he seemed to understand that it comes with the territory.