Prince Harry's spell of "normal life" has come to an abrupt end, with the Ministry of Defence confirming yesterday that he was being withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately. Defence staff and Army chiefs said they had little choice but to end his tour in Helmand early, after foreign media broke a news blackout and revealed that Harry had been serving in the province since before Christmas.
The news will come as a blow to the 23-year-old, who considered resigning his commission last year after being told that he would not be deployed to Iraq for fear that he and those he served with would become a special target for insurgents.
"Following a detailed assessment of the risks by the operational chain of command, the decision has been taken by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of Defence Staff, in consultation with General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, to withdraw Prince Harry from Afghanistan immediately," said the Ministry of Defence. "This decision has been taken primarily on the basis that the worldwide media coverage of Prince Harry in Afghanistan could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier."
Although Prince Harry had been due to return in a few weeks, his enforced early departure will prove a disappointment. He was obviously savouring life as one of the lads, mucking in and enjoying banter with his comrades.
Although conditions in the frontline locations such as Forward Operating Base Delhi, in Garmsir, south of the province, cannot be described as normal, it gave the Prince an opportunity to enjoy a life of anonymity surrounded by soldiers who were obviously unfazed by his presence. "It has been good actually, it has been a lot easier than I thought," said L/Cpl of Horse Chris Douglass, 28, who served with the Prince when he commanded a Spartan reconnaissance vehicle. "He's a very easy person to get along with. He's been great, he's just like one of the lads. His background has got nothing to do with what his job is and that's what he's here to do. Nobody cares about anything else outside."
Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of Task Force Helmand, said: "As a forward air controller he has been deployed in the field for his entire time in theatre. More recently he took part in a major operation to disrupt Taliban lines of communication. In doing so he has shared the same risks, endured the same austerity and undergone the same moments of fear and euphoria that are part of conducting operations in this most complex of environments. "
After his deployment in Afghanistan on 14 December, he went out on patrol and worked as a joint terminal attack controller, calling in air strikes on enemy bunker positions.
An agreement with all key UK media had kept his Afghanistan tour a secret until Thursday when a US website, the Drudge Report, followed up an article in an Australian magazine.