Prince Harry serves on the front line

Harry is the first royal to serve in a combat zone since his uncle Prince Andrew.

>LONDON (AP) – The secret is out: Prince Harry has been serving on the front line with his British army unit in one of Afghanistan’s most lawless and barren provinces.

Harry 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 the 23-year-old’s deployment secret until he had safely returned, but they released video of Harry serving in Helmand Province after a leak appeared on the U.S. Web site the Drudge Report.

The planned deployment had been disclosed to reporters, with no specific date, but was not reported previously under a pool 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.

“I got here on Christmas Eve. And going from bullet magnet to anti-bullet magnet, most of the guys were pretty bummed that I was here because nothing was happening for the first few days that I was here. But things are picking up again now because it’s obviously quite boring when nothing is happening,” Harry said in one video.

Although he is still in Afghanistan, military chiefs are angry over the leak and are considering if he should be moved. Tours to Afghanistan usually last six months, but Harry has served just 10 weeks.

“I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue,” said the army’s commander, Gen. Richard Dannatt.

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

Putting aside his usual life of privilege in Afghanistan, the prince spoke of going without showers for days, eating corned beef and hash and drinking nonalcoholic drinks. He noted he had also escaped the relentless paparazzi in London.

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 wasn’t given the chance to see combat.

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

“She told me I’m off to Afghanistan so that was the way it was supposed to be,” he said in an interview in Afghanistan, his hair coated with dust and his face in stubble.

“She was very ‘pro’ me going then, so I think she’s relieved that I get the chance to do what I want to do,” he added. He said he tries to phone home once a week.

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 for the throne, William is unlikely to ever 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-Qaida militants.

The close-quarter combat has been described as the most challenging British troops have faced since the Korean War, with their positions sometimes just a few yards from those held by insurgents. Since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in late 2001, 89 British soldiers have been killed.

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 just 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 wasn’t 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 are being kept secret.

“It’s bizarre,” he said in an interview. “I’m out here now, haven’t really had a shower for four days, haven’t washed my clothes for a week and everything seems completely normal. .. It’s nice just to be here with all the guys and just mucking in as one of the lads.”

Before his posting, Harry had been better known in the British tabloids for his love of the nightclub dance floors and was pictured more than once scuffling with photographers waiting for his often boozy exit.

But the army commander described Harry’s performance on the battlefield as exemplary. “He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else in his battle group,” Dannatt said.