Britain to withdraw Harry from Afghanistan

Updated on Mar 01, 2008 02:45 AM IST
As per the Defence Ministry, Prince Harry is being withdrawn after news leaked on the Internet that he has been secretly fighting on the front lines for 10 weeks.
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Reuters | ByLuke Baker, London

Britain's Prince Harry is being withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately, the Defence Ministry said on Friday, after news leaked on the Internet that he had been secretly fighting on the front lines for 10 weeks.

Harry, 23, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth and third in line to the throne, was sent to Afghanistan in December, but the British media maintained a blackout on reporting the deployment under an agreement with the Ministry of Defence.

That agreement collapsed on Thursday after Web sites in Australia, Germany and the United States leaked the news.

"Following a detailed assessment of the risks by the operational chain of command, the decision has been taken ... to withdraw Prince Harry from Afghanistan immediately," the ministry said in a statement.

"This decision has been taken primarily on the basis that the worldwide media coverage of Prince Harry in Afghanistan could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier."

Harry, the son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, has been active during his 10 weeks of combat, calling in air strikes against Taliban positions, carrying out foot patrols and firing a heavy-duty machine gun at suspected fighters.

Commanders described him as a "model soldier" and were quick to praise his bravery. It is the first time a British royal has been deployed in combat since the Falklands war 25 years ago, when Harry's uncle Prince Andrew flew helicopters.

But now that knowledge of Harry's role is widely known, there are concerns he could become a target of the Taliban, al Qaeda or other Islamist militants operating in the country. As well as his safety there are concerns for his regiment.

When it was announced last year that he could be deployed to Iraq, militant groups there threatened to kidnap or kill him. The deployment was later cancelled due to the threats.

Media debate

The fact the embargo on the Afghanistan deployment held for 2-1/2 months was a surprise, particularly given the cut throat, free-for-all nature of the British tabloid press. But it has also led to a debate about the media and "backroom deals".

Jon Snow, a British news reader, said the embargo affair could be damaging for the media's credibility.

"One wonders whether viewers, readers and listeners will ever want to trust media bosses again," he wrote on his blog.

Tessa Mayes, a commentator at Spiked Online, accused the media of doing special deals with the royals, something that was okay when Harry and his brother William were young, but not now.

"They are not children now, they are adults, and we should not be doing backroom deals with royalty," she told Sky TV.

"The role of the reporter is not to become the informational wing of the military, it's to have a degree of independence."

Reuters, like other major news outlets, agreed to the embargo, seeing it as similar to those frequently arranged with companies, central banks and governments to release sensitive information at a specific time.

The only British national newspaper that did not put the Harry story on its front page on Friday was the Independent.

"We don't share our rivals' incredible fascination with every aspect of the royal family's lives," deputy editor-in-chief Ian Birrell told Reuters.

"The most interesting aspect about all this is the breaking of the media embargo by Drudge, but we decided that in itself wasn't big enough to warrant the front page."

As far as the embargo goes, though, Birrell was supportive.

"I don't see a problem at all. I think the media has acted in a very responsible manner on what has been a difficult situation in which lives were at risk," he said.

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