For all the spin about Prince Harry being just another soldier as he made his return to Afghanistan on Friday last week, enduring the long flight from the UK to the desert in a regular troop carrier, the truth is actually far from that.
The most obvious indicator of the uncomfortable fact of his VIP status is that Harry reportedly has armed guards accompanying him at all times inside Camp Bastion, the heavily fortified fortress city of 28,000 army troops in Helmand province, to protect him against “green on blue” attacks, in which rogue Afghan army soldiers turn their guns on allied troops.
His life may officially be no more or less important than any other military man, in reality it's quite different.
The British Ministry of Defence - which is now handling all Harry press enquiries - is refusing to make any comment on Harry’s armed guards (the story was first reported by the paywalled Times) but it would hardly be surprising if such precautions were being taken – it can only be imagined just how stunning a propaganda victory it would be for the Taliban if the Harry was injured, killed or captured.
The Taliban have made it clear that they value Captain Wales as a ‘high-value’ target, and have publicly vowed to do everything in their power to capture or kill the young prince.
The armed guards are neccesary because Harry is at more risk on the ground than in the air, so formidably defended are the Apache helicopters he will begin flying early next week. Insurgents have never succeeded in shooting down an Apache in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s chances of success in getting to Harry are, of course, infinitesimally small, and their threats were dismissed as predictable hot air by most observers in the west. Harry is the ultimate hard target. But still, there is no room for complacency among military chiefs, who have faced criticism that sending Harry back into the theatre of war is unneccasarily endangering the lives of his colleagues.
Prince Harry’s deployment to Afghanistan, coming just days after he was at the centre of the most bizarre and embarrassing scandal to hit the Royal Family in a decade when he was photographed naked at a party in his Las Vegas hotel room, was so well-timed that one might have been forgiven for assuming his deployment was an exceptionally well-organised public relations exercise.
If the intention had been to soften criticism of the Prince by demonstrating his selflessness and bravery by taking to the front line, then the Taliban’s intervention on Monday, insisting they would do everything in their power to kidnap or kill Prince Harry, must have seemed like manna from heaven for the Buckingham Palace media advisors; an apt reminder of the terrifying foe the prince is going into battle against on his people’s behalf.
In fact, it wasn’t quite like that. Harry’s rotation to Afghanistan had been planned for several months. The Vegas trip was so crazy exactly because Harry knew it was his final chance to let off steam before heading out on active service. His four-month tour as an Apache helicopter co-pilot with the Army Air Corps means he will spend Christmas at war.
Still, it’s all worked out pretty well for the Prince’s team of handlers, who can now breathe a sigh of relief that Harry is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence for the next four months, and confined to barracks at Fort Bastion for his own safety.
Because Harry, William and Kate share the same staff in their mini-court at Kensington Palace, all of Harry’s key aides are now out of chilly, autumnal London, in the South Pacific with William and Kate on their tour of Singapore, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
At least one of the key advisors of the Young Royals is sufficiently relaxed to have decided to take the opportunity to follow up the work portion of the trip with a vacation that will keep him out of the office until the beginning of next month.
With Harry, of course, you can never completely rule out the possibility of some interesting news breaking wherever he goes, and British papers are already mining the rich seams of squaddies based in the desert for nuggets on Harry’s movements, but at least it seems unlikely his fellow soldiers will be texting pictures to TMZ.
Sixty years and hardly a slip.