The job that Prince Harry was doing in Afghanistan was essentially a ”carrot” to stop him leaving the army after he was refused permission to fight in Iraq with the soldiers he had led throughout his army career.
After his men left for Basra without him, he retrained for a job he had not before done. He was then deployed to Afghanistan without his regiment or the soldiers he commanded as a cornet in the Household Cavalry, equivalent to the rank of second lieutenant.
Instead of being the troop leader of a group of four Scimitar tanks which work as the ”eyes and the ears” of the army and operate on the frontline, his principal job in Afghanistan has been to control aircraft from the relative safety of a heavily fortified camp.
The job as forward air controller meant Harry had to retrain completely. ”[It] is a somewhat different role I never thought I would see myself doing in the army,” he admitted.
The Ministry of Defence denied the role had been created for the prince in a compromise between Clarence House and the army. It said he had been selected for it because the officer previously carrying out the role needed a break after serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Harry worked in Afghanistan alongside another member of his regiment, who was also on an individual attachment. Two months into his deployment he got back to more familiar activities, joining a tank manoeuvre in the desert.
The prince has never made secret his determination to serve on the frontline, whatever the risk. Last February it was announced that Harry would deploy to Iraq, but in May General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army’s chief of the general staff, said he would no longer be going after intelligence was received of a number of specific threats from insurgents to Harry and those serving alongside him. The decision was based on reports that he would be a specific target, a ”bullet magnet”, as Harry described it.
In an interview before his departure last December, Harry said he considered resigning his commission until the air controller job was offered to him. He said: ”It was a case of ‘Yeah, well, I haven’t, sort of, won the battle this time, for numerous reasons I can’t go on operations, I understand that but I will hang around and hopefully they will use me at some point.”’
The Queen witnessed his frustration when his posting to Iraq was blocked. ”She and everybody else did,” Harry said. ”There was a lot of frustration but, as they say in the army: ‘Turn to the right and carry on.”’
This time only a close circle of family, friends and as few as 15 MoD officials were told before his assignment to Afghanistan, to avoid making him or those around him a target.
Among those kept informed from the beginning was the Queen. ”She was very ‘pro’ me going then so I think she’s relieved that I get the chance to do what I want to do. She’s a very good person to talk to about it, her knowledge of the army is amazing for a grandmother — I suppose it’s slightly her job.” – Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008