Prince Harry, home from his abandoned military mission to Afghanistan, said he hopes to return to combat zones as soon as possible.
Harry returned to England on Saturday after serving for 10 weeks as a soldier in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province. His secret tour of duty — due to last until April — was abruptly aborted after a magazine and Web sites disclosed details of his whereabouts.
The prince’s mission had previously gone unreported as part of an agreement, designed to protect the 23-year-old prince and his fellow soldiers, between the Ministry of Defense and major news organizations.
“’Angry’ would be the wrong word to use but I am slightly disappointed. I thought I could see it through to the end and come back with our guys,” Harry said after landing at an air force base where he was met by his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William.
‘I want to go out very, very soon’
Harry — a cornet, or second lieutenant — said he hoped to return to Afghanistan soon and has already asked his commanding officer to approve a new mission.
“I would love to go back out, and I’ve already mentioned it to him that I want to go out very, very soon,” he said.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, head of Britain’s armed forces, said Sunday that any future deployment would depend on whether Harry poses a risk to his colleagues.
“I would have to be clear that the risks to the operation, in the widest sense of the people deployed on that operation, would be no higher than they would normally be,” Stirrup told Britain’s Sky News television.
Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, head of Britain’s army, said there is no immediate prospect of the prince returning to the front line for 12 to 18 months.
“Actually, the immediate prospect of Prince Harry going anywhere else is some way off in the future,” he said, explaining that the prince has a usual rest period and then a number of training and regimental commitments.
William to soon be deployed?
But Harry’s elder brother — second in line to the British throne — is likely to serve overseas with the military, probably on board a Royal Navy warship, the defense ministry said.
William could be deployed later this year on a tour to areas such as the South Atlantic, the Persian Gulf, the Pacific Ocean or the West Indies, officials said.
“It’s our intention to give Prince William as full a taste of life in the Royal Navy as possible,” a Navy spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.
William — the presumptive future king of Britain — has trained as a fighter pilot and is eager to serve overseas, Harry said.
“I know he’d love to, whether it’s on the ground or whether it’s 15,000 feet up, bombs strapped to the wings,” he said during an interview last week in Afghanistan.
Harry’s work in southern Afghanistan involved calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions, as well as foot and tank patrols. He said he was realistic about the consequences of fighting against the Taliban.
“You do what you have to do, what’s necessary to save your own guys,” he said. “If you need to drop a bomb, worst case scenario then you will, but then that’s just the way it is.”
Harry said a number of wounded troops were transported home on his flight back to Britain.
“The bravery of the guys out there was humbling,” he said.
Charles disappointed in shortened tour
Prince Charles said Britain’s royal family was disappointed the prince had been forced to abandon his tour.
“I feel particular frustration that he was removed unexpectedly early because, apart from anything else, he had been looking forward to coming back with the rest of his regiment,” Charles said.
But “you can imagine, it’s obviously a great relief, as far as I’m concerned, to see him home in one piece,” he said.
Security officials acknowledged that Harry’s role in Afghanistan could make him a target for extremists in Britain.
But one government official, who demanded anonymity to discuss sensitive counterterrorism work, said threats already posted on al-Qaida-affiliated Web forums are likely to be aspirational, rather than an indication of actual plots.
One post called for the prince to be killed and a video of his death sent to his family.
Other royals have also seen combat — most recently the princes’ uncle, Prince Andrew, who flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War. Their grandfather, Prince Philip, served on Royal Navy battleships during World War II.