PRINCE Harry today returned to Afghanistan to fly attack helicopters in the fight against the Taliban.
The 27-year-old Army Captain will be in the hot seat of a fearsome Apache during his four-month deployment.
Having arrived in the war-torn country in the early hours today under the cover of darkness, Harry spent his first morning at Camp Bastion checking over the state-of-the-art Army aircraft he has likened to a “robot”.
He looked relaxed, if slightly tired, after a long journey on a standard troop flight from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
The royal, who spent 10 weeks on the front line in 2007-08, climbed up to peer into the cockpit of one of the helicopters he will fly and crouched down to inspect its weapons.
The prince wore his combat uniform and was joined on the Apache flightline by another un-named member of the 100-strong unit he is posted to, 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.
Before deploying, Harry said his goodbyes to his immediate family. His brother the Duke of Cambridge wished him well when they met at William’s home at Kensington Palace earlier this week.
Harry was greeted at Bastion by the Commander of the Joint Aviation Group, Captain Jock Gordon (Royal Navy).
He said: “I extend an extremely warm welcome to 662 Squadron, including Captain Wales who, with his previous experience as a forward air controller on operations, will be a useful asset to the Joint Aviation Group.
“And working together with his colleagues in the squadron, he will be in a difficult and demanding job, 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.” After about 10 days of acclimatisation and training to hone his skills, Captain Harry Wales – as he is known in the Army – will be set to go out on operations in his role as co-pilot gunner.
The Queen and Prince of Wales were both fully briefed about his return to operations and Charles is “immensely proud of his son”, St James’s Palace said today.
It comes just weeks after Harry was at the centre of controversy when pictures emerged of him partying in various states of undress in Las Vegas.
Harry has made no secret of his desire to return to active service, and has spent the past three years changing the direction of his military career from an armoured reconnaissance troop leader to an Army helicopter pilot in order to be posted back to Afghanistan.
A St James’s Palace spokesman said: “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.”
He added: “Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honour to represent his country in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces wherever it chooses to deploy him.”
Harry can now put his naked Las Vegas romp behind him, and his antics can be seen as letting off steam ahead of a taxing deployment.
The third in line to the throne will now be knuckling down to the serious business of fighting the Taliban after reportedly getting a dressing down by a senior officer for his well-publicised nude frolic. During his current posting he could well carry out similar tasks to those he co-ordinated in 2007-08.
That tour of duty was abruptly ended when foreign media broke a news blackout on reporting details of his service.
This time the MoD has chosen to confirm this deployment after a threat assessment concluded that acknowledging his presence in Afghanistan would not put the royal or his colleagues at further risk.
He will fly various types of mission while stationed in Afghanistan, from escorting RAF Chinook helicopters carrying troops or equipment, to targeting Taliban fighters who have attacked ground troops.
Harry’s four-month tour coincides with Operation Herrick 17, which is the British military codename for current operations in Helmand Province.