Despite the british government's concerted effort to preserve the secret, a veteran Taliban field officer claims he was scarcely surprised by the disclosure that Prince Harry was serving with Britain's troops in southern Afghanistan. Fearing that insurgents would specifically target Cornet Wales (the prince's military title) and his fellow soldiers if his presence in the battle zone were publicly revealed, the top British brass did everything possible to prevent leaks about his deployment on Dec. 14 to Helmand province. But talking to newsweek via satellite phone from that region last week, deputy commander Mullah Abdul Karim recalled getting an urgent message from Taliban intelligence in late December or early January that "an important chicken" had joined British troops in his area of operations. Karim promptly sent his men hunting for the prince. "He is our special enemy," says Karim. "Our first option was to capture him as a prisoner, and the second, to kill him."
The prince traveled around the province with his unit, says Karim, whose men once or twice reported possible sightings of Harry's armored convoy in their area of operations, eastern Helmand's Sanguin district. But Karim and his fighters never got close to their target. The prince's Afghan tour of duty had been scheduled to last until April, but it ended abruptly Thursday after the Miami-based Web site Drudge Report revealed the prince's whereabouts. Less than a day later Britain's Ministry of Defence announced Harry's withdrawal from Afghanistan. The ministry said the prince had been working as a forward air controller, calling in fighter-bomber strikes against Taliban forces. Karim claims he heard the same thing from Afghans on the ground. "He may be a prince, but he didn't have a prince's heart," says Karim. "He proved as cruel and brutal as other British soldiers, bombing and shelling innocent Afghans and Taliban."
U.S. and British intelligence officials are highly skeptical about the Taliban commander's story, dismissing it as propaganda and "wishful thinking." They say there's no evidence that the Taliban had any idea of Prince Harry's presence in Afghanistan before Matt Drudge put the story on the Web and set off a media stampede. The British press had agreed to an embargo on the story in exchange for journalistic access to the prince. Suddenly the papers were full of quotes, photos and details about Cornet Wales and his Afghan tour of duty.
All the same, Karim may be telling the truth. The Taliban undoubtedly has good sources for inside information on Western forces inside the country: translators and other Afghan support staff can't be expected to ignore threats to family members who live within easy reach of Taliban fighters. What's certain is that Harry's anonymous visit is now over. "It's very nice to be a normal person for once," he told British reporters. "I think this is as normal as I'm ever going to get."