Harry 'came within minutes of Taliban roadside bomb'

Last updated at 12:32 29 February 2008

Prince Harry was just minutes away from driving over a deadly Taliban landmine while fighting in Afghanistan, it has been revealed.

On a routine patrol to collect supplies the prince's convoy was held back for seven hours after the discovery of a massive Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which could have destroyed the light tank he was driving.

A Russian anti-tank shell, fitted with a pressure plate to blow up when driven over by a vehicle, had been buried under gravel in a gully the squadron was about to cross.

IEDs have been respsonsible for the deaths of hundreds of servicemen both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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prince harry afghanistan

Soldier: Prince Harry in combat in Afghanistan

Engineers also found a sophisticated "command wire" leading towards nearby buildings, potentially allowing insurgents to set the device off from the safety of a remote firing point when British or Afghan government troops came past.

The shell was detected as the convoy passed through a gravel "wadi" - or dry riverbed - on a route used regularly by coalition forces in the past.

As the squadron approached a vulnerable pinch-point - a bridge over a concrete gully cutting across the wadi - it stopped to allow engineers to sweep the surrounding area with metal detectors.

The routine drill paid off as they uncovered a 22mm anti-tank shell capable of killing anyone who drove over it and their passengers.

During a complex all-day operation C Squadron of the Household Cavalry sealed off a populated area, searched a series of compounds and pinpointed a suspected firing point in a house.

Two men, including a local baker, were temporarily detained and questioned after a military-style rucksack was found in the building.

Harry, who as a Forward Air Controller was responsible for any aircraft, sliced hours off the operation by effectively intercepting a helicopter carrying a Gurkha bomb disposal team and persuading it to change its landing spot nearer to the site of the device than planned.

The Chinook, which had an Apache helicopter gunship escort, had been ordered to land in the desert several kilometres away to reduce the risk of being mortared from the ground.

But while the Chinook was already en route, Harry managed to persuade decision makers to allow the team to land in the centre of the wadi for the first time, relying on a squadron of Spartan and Scimitar armoured vehicles for protection.

"It's rare when you actually manage to persuade Brigade to change their minds," Harry said with a smile as the helicopter arrived overhead.

The team landed as near to the device as was safe and swept the area before blowing up the shell.

"There was confusion with actually getting in the disposal team and he managed to intercept the helicopter and bring them to a closer location which saved hours of our time," Harry's troop leader Captain Dickon Leigh-Wood later explained.

His role also included protecting the troops as they searched the area by scouring surrounding fields and compounds on surveillance footage beamed from an overhead drone.

He also used the plane to pick out an alternative route allowing part of the squadron to break off and continue on its way.

Capt Leigh-Wood explained: "(It was) a massive IED, that would have quite happily destroyed a vehicle.

"The boys with their skills and their knowledge, they located it, we believe we found the hideout of where the firing point would have been and we dealt with the device ... also enabling the safety of any locals wanting to use the route as well."

He added: "It's massively satisfying. It's definitely very worthwhile. For hours waiting in the desert you have two hours of incredibly exciting and dangerous work.

"Coming across pressure plate IEDs is, to be honest, terrifying and the way that the boys worked out how to deal with it is incredibly satisfying."

Harry praised the teamwork of the entire squadron: "I think (that) was the 15th IED that they've found, thus just proving the system does work, the kit that we've got essentially does work and the guys on the ground are pretty hot s t when it comes to drills once you've been doing them for months and months."

Lance Corporal Frankie O'Leary, 21, from Lewisham, south London, said afterwards: "The IED was probably meant for coalition forces, possibly the Afghan Army but by the same token it could easily have hurt civilians so taking something like that out of the picture gives you a good feeling.

"It was a massive squadron effort, everyone playing their part, there wasn't a man sat there doing nothing, everyone really got stuck in."

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