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THURSDAY, 17 APR 2014
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Prince Harry’s wartime role draws fears of reprisals
In this photo taken Nov. 3 2012, and made available Monday Jan. 21 2013 Britain's Prince Harry or just plain Captain Wales as he is known in the British Army, races out from the VHR (very high ready-ness) tent to scramble his Apache with fellow Pilots.  (AP Photo/ John Stillwell, Pool)
In this photo taken Nov. 3 2012, and made available Monday Jan. 21 2013 Britain's Prince Harry or just plain Captain Wales as he is known in the British Army, races out from the VHR (very high ready-ness) tent to scramble his Apache with fellow Pilots. (AP Photo/ John Stillwell, Pool)
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LONDON/KABUL: Prince Harry’s admission that he killed Taliban fighters while working as a helicopter gunner in Afghanistan drew intense British media coverage Tuesday and sparked concerns about possible reprisals.

The Taliban said Tuesday Harry, who compared shooting insurgents to playing video games, had probably developed a mental problem.

The 28-year-old prince spoke in a pooled interview published late Monday after he was safely out of Afghanistan. He spent the last 20 weeks deployed as a co-pilot and gunner in a heavily armed Apache attack helicopter.

As co-pilot, Harry was in charge of the weapons systems in a two-man cockpit, firing Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, rockets and a 30-millimeter gun. He described the weapons systems as a joy.

“It’s a joy for me because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful,” he said in in the interview.

Asked if he had killed from the cockpit, the third-in-line to the British throne said: “Yeah, so, lots of people have.”

The response was immediate Tuesday: The Daily Mirror tabloid ran a Page One headline “Royal Sensation Harry: I Killed Taliban” along with a photo of a macho-looking Harry in combat gear and designer shades.

Other newspapers ran similar gung-ho stories about the prince’s military exploits. “Harry: I Have Killed” was the story in the Daily Mail.

Video shot during the prince’s deployment was shown dozens of times on Britain’s major news networks.

“There are 49 countries with their powerful military failing in the fight against the mujahedeen, and now this prince comes and compares this war with his games, PlayStation or whatever he calls it,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“This is a serious war, a historic war, resistance for us, for our people,” Mujahid said.

“But we don’t take his comments very seriously, as we have all seen and heard that many foreign soldiers, occupiers who come to Afghanistan, develop some kind of mental problems on their way out.”

“We have always wanted to capture or kill this prince, but he was mostly kept inside, safe, and in guarded places underground,” he added.

“At one point when our mujahedeen attacked the airport, we were aware of his presence there but he was hastily flown away.”

This was a reference to a major Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand last September when Britain’s defense minister admitted that Harry had been moved to a secure location.

In Parliament Tuesday, Mark Francois praised Harry, saying the prince should be commended for his bravery.

He “has done well for his country,” Francois said, offering kind words for a prince who has occasionally embarrassed the royal family, most recently by being photographed naked as he played strip billiards at a Las Vegas hotel.

Many in Harry’s family have also seen combat – most recently his uncle, Prince Andrew, who flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War. Prince Philip, his grandfather, served on Royal Navy battleships during World War II.

Not everyone was applauding the soldier-prince.

Lindsey German, leader of the Stop the War Coalition, called Harry’s comments “arrogant and insensitive” and raised the prospect that Harry might have accidently targeted Afghan civilians.

Former officer Charles Heyman, who edits a yearbook on British forces, said the prince’s words might have raised the already high threat level against him.

“The royal family are all targets, and he now probably becomes the prime target, royal family-wise,” Heyman said. “But he can live with that. He’s a soldier; he knows what he’s doing.”

Heyman said it was commendable that Harry had undertaken such a dangerous and demanding military job.

“By and large, the world’s elite make sure their sons and daughters go nowhere near the firing line. So it brings credit to the royal family, and it’s good for army morale, that Harry’s not sitting back in London saying, ‘Well done, boys,’” he said.

Heyman said as an Apache gunner, Harry would have opened fire when directed to do so by a ground controller who would most likely have been under enemy fire. The prince typically would have been firing at Taliban forces in bunkers or protected in some way, not at troops out in the open, said the former officer.

Col. Richard Kemp, a former British commander in Afghanistan, said the fevered press response to Harry’s words reflected a certain naivety about the realities of war.

“He’s flying an attack helicopter armed with missiles and machine guns, and its purpose is predominantly to come in and provide fire support for troops fighting the Taliban, so it would be very, very surprising if he didn’t swoop in and kill,” Kemp said.

He said Harry’s tone was appropriate in the interview.

“I know it’s a delicate subject, but I’m surprised by how much people have seized on what he said,” Kemp. “If he’d been bragging about killing, that would have been wrong, but he didn’t brag about it.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2013, on page 11.
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