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Defense chief says Prince Harry being withdrawn from Afghanistan for security reasons
In this image made available in London, Thursday Feb. 28, 2008, Britain's Prince Harry, sits atop a military vehicle in the Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan Monday February 18, 2008. Prince Harry has been serving on the front line in Afghanistan with the British Army, according to an announcement by Britain's Ministry of Defence. The Prince, who is third in line to the throne, and is still deployed in the country, has been in Afghanistan since December. The deployment was not reported due to an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and news organizations, including The Associated Press. The story was leaked by an Australian magazine and a German newspaper. - photo by Associated Press
    LONDON — Britain’s defense chief decided Friday to immediately pull Prince Harry out of Afghanistan after news of his deployment was leaked, citing concerns that media coverage could put him and his comrades at increased risk.
    Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, chief of the Defense Staff, said he decided to withdraw the prince after senior commanders assessed the risks, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
    Harry, third in line to the British throne, has been serving on the front line with an army unit in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province since mid-December. He was originally due to return to Britain within weeks, but ‘‘the situation has now clearly changed,’’ the statement said.
    The ministry asked the media not to speculate on Harry’s location — or how and when he would return — until he was back in Britain.
    British officials had hoped to keep Prince Harry’s deployment secret until he had safely returned, but they released video of him serving in Helmand province after the leak. The Australian women’s magazine New Idea reported on Harry’s deployment in January. The news appeared Wednesday in the U.S. Web site the Drudge Report, and media around the world subsequently reported it.
    The ministry deplored the leak by ‘‘elements of the foreign media.’’
    ‘‘However, this was a circumstance that we have always been aware of and one for which we have had contingency plans in place,’’ the statement said.
    Queen Elizabeth II said her 23-year-old grandson had performed ‘‘a good job in a very difficult climate.’’
    Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the prince had demonstrated that he was an exemplary young officer and the country owned him a ‘‘debt of gratitude.
    ‘‘Security considerations come first. That has been the deciding factor which was made by our defense staff and I think that everybody will respect that is the right decision,’’ Brown said.
    Harry is the first royal to serve in a combat zone since his uncle Prince Andrew flew helicopters during Britain’s war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982.
    Tours to Afghanistan usually last six months; Harry has served 10 weeks.
    Harry conceded in an interview filmed last week that when he returns to Britain he could be a ‘‘top target’’ for Islamic terrorists.
    ‘‘Once this ... comes out, every single person that supports them will be trying to slot me,’’ he said.
    But he said his deployment was a welcome chance to escape from paparazzi and hostile headlines. He said it was probably the best chance he’ll ever get at being a normal person.
    ‘‘To be honest with you the one nice thing is not knowing what’s in the paper, what kind of rubbish people are writing,’’ he said.
    Harry, a regular in London’s nightclub circuit, has made steady headlines over the years. He’s been snapped wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party, cavorting with strippers, and scuffling with the photographers outside trendy London nightspots.
    His red hair coated in dust, Harry said he had been eating military rations and drinking nonalcoholic beverages.
    The deployment plan had been disclosed to reporters, with no specific date, but was not reported previously because of an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and all major news organizations operating in Britain, including The Associated Press. The news blackout was intended to reduce the risk to the prince and his regiment.
    Harry was supposed to go to Iraq with the Blues and Royals regiment in May last year but the assignment was canceled because of security fears. Iraqi insurgents made threats on Internet chat rooms, saying he would not make it home alive.
    Harry trained at Sandhurst military academy and joined the Blues and Royals as a cornet, the cavalry regiment’s equivalent of a second lieutenant. After being held back from his Iraq assignment, the prince threatened to quit the army if he was not given the chance to see combat.
    He said the news of his Afghan assignment had been delivered by the queen herself.
    Harry said his older brother, William, who also graduated from Sandhurst and is training as a military pilot, is jealous of his deployment. As Britain’s likely future king, Prince William is unlikely ever to see combat.
    Harry said his brother wrote to tell him his late mother, Princess Diana, would have been proud.
    ‘‘She would be looking down having a giggle about the stupid things that I’ve been doing, like going left when I should have gone right,’’ Harry said.
    Helmand province is where most of the 7,800 British soldiers in Afghanistan are based. It has seen some of the country’s fiercest combat in recent years, with NATO-led forces fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
    Harry’s work in Afghanistan has involved calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions as well as going out on foot patrols. He spent part of his deployment at a base 500 yards from Taliban positions, the military said.
    Since Harry’s arrival, his battle group has been responsible for around 30 enemy deaths, a Ministry of Defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
    Video showed the prince in camouflage fatigues walking across arid and dusty terrain, calling in air support, firing a machine gun and patrolling the streets of Garmsir, the southernmost part of the province. He has since left Garmsir, and his current whereabouts are being kept secret.
    Associated Press Writer Raphael G. Satter contributed to this report.

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