LONDON, (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, returned home from Afghanistan on Saturday after news leaked out on the Internet that he had been secretly fighting the Taliban for 10 weeks.
Queen Elizabeth’s grandson was pulled out of the frontline because defence officials feared worldwide coverage of his deployment with the British army could endanger him and his fellow soldiers.
The prince flew back to the Royal Air Force base at Brize Norton in central England to be greeted by his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William. Harry went to Afghanistan on active service in December on a four-month deployment. He walked down the plane’s steps in winter sunshine wearing body armour, a green camouflage jacket and carrying a rucksack.
The 23-year-old ignored a phalanx of television news crews and photographers as he walked across the tarmac chatting to a colleague.
Harry, the second son of the late Princess Diana, was the first British royal to see combat since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew helicopters during the Falklands War 25 years ago.
The British media had maintained a voluntary blackout on Harry’s Afghan deployment but that collapsed after Web sites in Australia, Germany and the United States leaked the news. He was bitterly disappointed last year that his planned deployment to Iraq was cancelled after militant groups there threatened to kidnap or kill him. Harry confessed he had contemplated quitting the army.
Harry said he could now be a “top target” for Islamist extremists in Britain after fighting the Taliban. “Once this … comes out there’ll probably be every single person, every single person that supports them will be trying to slot me,” he said.
The Times newspaper agreed. “Prince Harry returns to England today, a hero to the Army, a changed man in the eyes of the public and a target for jihadists,” it said.
Harry, pursued around London by paparazzi every time he goes to a nightclub, revelled in the anonymity of serving on the frontline in Afghanistan.
The prince, whose mother lived in the glare of media publicity before dying in a Paris car crash while being chased by paparazzi, said: “It’s very nice to be a normal person for once, I think this is about as normal as I’m ever going to get.”