'My mother would be proud,' says Harry as MoD prepares to bring him back home

Last updated at 11:51 29 February 2008

• 'This gives me my best chance to be normal'

• 'William wrote to tell me our mother would be proud'

• 'I would never be a bullet magnet'

• Muslim groups warn that Harry will be target

• British press praised for keeping Harry's deployment secret

Prince Harry said he believed his mother Diana was looking down on him with pride as he served in Afghanistan - and hoped the British public would greet news of his deployment with "So what?"

Despite being third in line to the throne, the prince was allowed to operate within sight of enemy positions, calling in air strikes and carrying out aerial surveillance of Taliban trenches and bunker systems.

Harry called for commentators who branded him a "coward" for not going to Iraq to "eat their words".

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The Prince takes aim with his SA-80 rifle in Afghanistan

Prince Harry on patrol through the deserted town of Garmisir close to FOB Delhi (forward operating base), where he was posted in Helmand province Southern Afghanistan

"I wouldn't expect the British public to make much of it," he said.

"I think they would just turn round and go, 'Yep, good on him, good on the people who got him out there, he's a soldier, so what', that sort of thing.

"'So what if he goes out there, my husband went out there, he died,' would be the general opinion, hopefully so."

See video of Harry directing his first bomb drop here

Harry, 23, who was just 12 when his mother was killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, said he believed she was looking down on him, "having a giggle" when things went wrong.

He told how, while he was in Helmand, his brother Prince William wrote to tell him their mother would be proud - but said he does not have time to feel sorry for himself as he is too busy watching out for those around him.

"I suppose it's just the way it is, there are other people out here who've lost one of their parents, I'm sure it's the same for them," he said.

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The Prince has said fighting in the war gives him his 'best chance to be normal'

"If you ... think about stuff like that then you're only going to feel sorry for yourself - just get on with the job, have a laugh with the blokes, if you want to feel sorry for yourself do it when you get back."

See video of Harry firing his machine gun here

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Prince Harry has been an "exemplary" soldier, adding: "The whole of Britain will be proud of the outstanding service he is giving."

Conservative leader David Cameron said: "Like all the troops currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Harry has been incredibly brave. He has pursued his desire to get on the frontline and serve his country with huge determination and courage.

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Prince Harry, pictured here in Afghanistan, has been serving in the war-torn country for ten weeks, the MoD confirmed today

The Prince walks past an Afghan on a donkey while on patrol in the Helmand province

"I applaud the British press for not breaking the story and risking his life and others around him."

Australian magazine New Idea and German newspaper Bild also both broke the embargo on the news.

As part of the deal a group of journalists had visited the prince in Helmand on condition that details would only be publicised once he was safely back in the UK.

The deal was arranged after Harry's planned tour to Iraq last year had to be cancelled because of a security risk sparked by publicity.

He later swore he would quit the Army if he was not allowed to fight.

As the Prince flew out to Afghanistan in December he brushed off fears he would become a "bullet magnet", saying: "I just want to do my bit."

"I would never put someone else's life in danger when they have to sit next to the bullet magnet," he said in an interview at Clarence House before he flew out to the war-torn country in December.

"But if I'm wanted, if I'm needed, then I will serve my country as I signed up to do.

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Prince Harry eats a meal under the turret of his Spartan armoured vehicle

"I don't think it's putting anybody at risk at all ... if I can get out there without anyone actually making it public - which is basically what's happening at the moment with the deal that's being made with numerous papers - things are looking up."

The party-loving Prince, who is operating under the call sign Widow Six Seven, also joked about the fact there would be no nightclubs in Afghanistan.

Speaking before his departure he admitted the disappointment of being told last year he could not go to Iraq for security reasons made him wish he was not a prince.

"I wish that quite a lot actually," he said.

"William and I have said numerous times that there's a lot of opportunities that we miss out on - as well as we also got a lot of chances - for who we are.

"But at the beginning of this year (2007), it was very hard and I did think, 'well, clearly one of the main reasons that I'm not likely to be going was the fact of who I am'.

"So yes, I did think at that time that I wished I wasn't, but at the same time I'm very grateful for the job that I've got and the way that things are."

He said he was pinning his hopes on a taste of normality away from the royal life he has known since birth.

"I think dressed in the same uniform as numerous other people, thousands of other people in Afghanistan will give me one of the best chances to be just a normal person: with a helmet on, with a shemagh (scarf) with goggles on, whatever," he said.

"As far as anybody else is concerned they will just treat me as just a normal officer out there, hopefully.

"That will be massively important for me, it could be a turning point."

He initially flew out in December to work on the ground at a remote British desert outpost in the south of Helmand province close to the Pakistan border.

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But within days of his arrival at Forward Operating Base Dwyer he was ordered forward to the semi-deserted town of Garmsmir, on the southernmost front line, to serve alongside a detachment of Gurkha troops.

The base sits just over 500 metres from the Taliban trenches across First World War-style no-man's-land and comes under attack from rockets, RPGs, mortars and machine gun rounds an average of five times a day.

The move allowed Harry to go further forward than he ever imagined and take part in foot patrols through the town centre as well as operating from JTAC Hill, a frontline observation position overlooking no-man's-land within sight of the Taliban.

"All my wishes have come true," he said, speaking in his austere bed-space at Forward Operating Base Dehli (known as Fob Delhi) – a one-time Taliban madrassa, or religious school, now a British base, in Garmsir.

He has since left Garmsir to work in another part of Helmand Province, details of which can not be reported for security reasons.

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Prince Harry sits with Lance Cpl of Horse Chris 'Dougie' Douglass atop a Spartan armoured vehicle in the Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan.

There is no immediate steer from the Ministry of Defence on the future of his deployment.

Earlier this week a Royal Marine became the 89th British fatality in Afghanistan - the third killed there this year, and the second in one week.

The marine was trying to disrupt Taliban fighters in the southern province of Helmand when he was caught in a bomb blast.

The deaths followed a week of bomb explosions in southern Afghanistan, where the death toll from two days of suicide attacks rose to more than 140.

Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt, who is head of the British Army, said he was disappointed the news had leaked.

In a statement, he said: "I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us.

"This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number of overseas outlets, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations.

"After a lengthy period of discussion between the MoD and the editors of regional, national and international media, the editors took the commendable attitude to restrain their coverage.

"I would like to thank them for that and I do appreciate that once the story was in the public domain, they had no choice but to follow suit.

"What the last two months have shown is that it is perfectly possible for Prince Harry to be employed just the same as other Army officers of his rank and experience.

"His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary.

"He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else in his battlegroup.

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A well-armed Harry speaks to ITV in Afghanistan

"In common with all of his generation in the Army today, he is a credit to the nation.

"In deciding to deploy him to Afghanistan, it was my judgment that with an understanding with the media not to broadcast his whereabouts, the risk in doing was manageable.

"Now that the story is in the public domain, the Chief of Defence Staff and I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue.

"I now appeal to the media to restrain from attempting to report Prince Harry's every move and return to our understanding."

The Prince - a "Cornet" or Second Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals – was told last May that he could not serve as a tank troop commander in Iraq for security reasons.

The deployment had been publicly announced and received widespread publicity.

But it had to be cancelled at short notice after specific intelligence was picked up that his presence would lead to a surge in the number of attacks on British troops in Basra.

Although Harry considered leaving the army he stayed on with the prospect of a new role in Afghanistan.

He retrained as a JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) away from the public eye during summer 2007.

The role put him at the heart of the fight against the Taliban, working long hours and constantly in demand.

From a fortified operations room at the base he was able to track enemy movements, watching live footage dubbed "Taliban TV" or "Kill TV" beamed from allied planes to a laptop screen in front of him.

His job brought him into daily contact over the radio with British, American, French and Dutch pilots.

But none knew he was a member of the Royal Family as he was operating under his call sign "Widow Six Seven".

The job was vitally important in saving the lives of coalition troops under fire from the Taliban.

He also had the responsibility of preventing friendly fire deaths, setting co-ordinates for bomb drops and protecting aircraft from flying mortars and artillery.

He dropped his first bombs on New Year's Eve, targeting three 500lb detonations on a network of Taliban bunkers via two US F15 jets.

The prince said his grandmother the Queen was the one who told him he would be sent to the front line.

She was a strong supporter of his desire to serve on the front line despite his position, he said. He said the monarch had been "relieved" when it was agreed he would finally be able to do the job he had trained to do.

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