Prince Harry 'cleared for Afghanistan posting'

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The Independent Online

Prince Harry has been cleared to be redeployed to Afghanistan and could return next year, it was reported today.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) would not comment on the reports but the 26-year-old Apache helicopter pilot is thought to be keen to return to the country after his first tour of duty was cut short in 2008.

Clarence House also remained tight-lipped after reports appeared in The Sun and the Daily Mirror, with a spokesman saying only that it was up to the Army to send the Prince wherever it wants.

"Harry is an Army pilot and will deploy wherever the Army chooses to send him," the spokesman said.

"His course finishes in 2012 and after that his deployment will be a matter for the Army chain of command."

The Sun said that both defence chiefs and the Queen have given the go-ahead for Harry to return to the frontline.

It said a final decision - which will be kept secret - will be made early next year.

It quoted a royal source as saying: "Assuming Harry is successful the preliminary decision for him to return to frontline duties is now a go."

The Mirror quoted a royal source as saying: "He made many good friends over there and his family understands that this is what he wants to do with his life.

"They know he cannot be persuaded on this matter so have accepted that he will return at least one last time."

The Prince, a British Army captain, served for 10 weeks in Afghanistan as a forward air controller in 2007-08, directing jets dropping bombs on Taliban positions in Helmand province.

His tour of duty was abruptly ended however when foreign websites broke a media blackout on reporting details of his service.

Then 23, he was withdrawn from the country after the news broke amid fears that his continuing presence would have increased the chances of attacks on the troops around him.

The Chief of Defence Staff at the time, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said any future deployments by the Prince would depend on ensuring that that was not the case.

But Harry was quoted in 2008 saying he wanted to go back out there "very, very soon".

The young royal, known on base as Captain Wales, is currently undergoing "conversion to role" training at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk after qualifying as an Apache pilot.

Upon completion of this course in seven months' time he will be assigned to a squadron.

He is expected to be based at the flying station for four years.

The Apache helicopter is designed to hunt and destroy tanks and is equipped with rockets, missiles and a machine gun.

Asked in March what his aim was after he qualified as an Apache pilot, the Prince said: "My goal is to serve my country like everybody else in the British forces.

"I count myself very, very lucky to have the chance to fly helicopters and even luckier to have the chance to fly the Apache. It's a fantastic piece of kit, it's like flying a robot.

"It's one of the safest helicopters, hence my father wasn't too upset when I was selected for it."

He said his new role would very probably take him back to the front line in combat zones.

"I will do whatever is asked of me," he said.

An MoD spokesman said: "We cannot comment on the deployment of individual service personnel."