Prince Harry lands in Afghanistan ready to battle Taliban
The 27-year-old royal is in Afghanistan, beginning a four-month deployment with the British forces battling the Taliban.
The Army captain arrived at Camp Bastion in the wee hours of Friday and spent his first few hours inspecting the Apache attack helicopter that he'll be co-piloting while posted with the 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.
Unlike his last deployment into the war zone, in 2008, there was no attempt to keep Harry's mission a secret after the Ministry of Defence decided his presence would not put him or his squadron at any more risk than they already deal with. It has even allowed a reporter and photographer on the base to provide coverage (video below).
In a series of photos, Harry is seen checking over the cockpit and weapons of one of the helicopters and gives a thumbs-up.
"He's approached the deployment with a range of emotions like any other soldier and feels both pride and anticipation as he deploys for a job he's trained for, for so long," said a St. James's Palace spokesman.
The Palace also said his father, Prince Charles, was "immensely proud of his son" and had said his goodbyes when Harry was at Birkhall last weekend. Harry had a final visit with his brother William when the two were in London earlier this week.
The prince will have 10 days to get used to the routine at Camp Bastion before officially getting on with the job of hunting down Taliban and providing troop support. The unit he's assigned to has the largest "kill rate" in Afghanistan, according to the Telegraph, averaging two dead Taliban a week. No UK Apache helicopters have been lost in the campaign yet.
"Killing insurgents is what the machine Prince Harry flies is there for. You cannot put it any other way," one source told the paper.
Camp Bastion, in Helmand province, is the largest military base in Afghanistan and the central support for UK troops.
Harry's commanding officer, Capt. Jock Gordon, extended an official welcome to Prince Harry. "He will be in a difficult and demanding job," Gordon said in a statement, "and I ask that he be left to get on with his duties and allowed to focus on delivering support to the coalition troops on the ground."
Harry's sudden appearance in Afghanistan has also put a new spin on his naked romp in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. The Daily Mail website splashed his return to the war zone with the headline "From Las Vegas to Camp Bastion: Prince Harry retuns to duty in Afghanistan to fly attack helicopters in war with the Taliban (so perhaps we shouldn't blame him for enjoying the odd pool party)."
Photos of the unclothed Prince in his suite produced an internet storm, especially in Britain where the media felt handcuffed by privacy laws. The Sun tabloid finally printed the pictures, leading to about 3,800 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, though none from the Palace. On Thursday, the PCC said it would be "inappropriate" to open in investigation at this time without involvement from Prince Harry's representatives.
In any case, Harry's party time will be dramatically curtailed while on this mission. He celebrates his 28th birthday on Sept. 15, but it'll probably be a dry one, since the camp is an alcohol-free zone.
Prince Harry is shown the Apache helicopter weapons at Camp Bastion. Prince Harry will be based at Camp Bastion during his tour of duty as a co-pilot gunner, returning to Afghanistan to fly attack helicopters in the fight against the Taliban. (AP Photo/John Stillwell)