29/02/2008

NI Soldier's Stint With Prince Harry Ends

Prince Harry is to be withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately, after news of his deployment there was leaked.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Defence on Friday said: "The decision by elements of the foreign media to report Prince Harry's presence in Afghanistan without any consultation with the Ministry of Defence is regrettable.

"This decision has been taken primarily on the basis that the worldwide media coverage of Prince Harry in Afghanistan could impact on the security of those who are deployed there, as well as the risks to him as an individual soldier."

Meanwhile, it emerged earlier that Prince Harry has up to now been able to enjoy the benefit of some Ulster 'craic' while fighting on the front line in Afghanistan.

Corporal David Baxter, from Bendooragh, near Ballymoney, has been serving as one half of a two-man team with the third in line to the throne, with both soldiers operating as Forward Air Controllers.

News of the 'partnership' only emerged after it was revealed last night that Harry has been serving in the war-torn region since December, taking part in missions against the Taliban.

The media in Britain had agreed to keep his role a secret, but it was made public by an American website on Thursday.

Commenting on working alongside Prince Harry, Ulster soldier David Baxter said: "At the end of the day he is just treated like any other officer from the regiment."

When David Baxter was sent to Afghanistan as a battlefield air controller he did not expect to be cracking jokes with the third ­in line to the throne.

But two months into his tour of duty in Helmand, the 28 ­year-old non ­commissioned officer found himself mentoring one of his regiment's youngest officers - Prince Harry.

The former tank driver from Bendooragh near Ballymoney - a Corporal of Horse in the Household Cavalry Regiment - was sent to Afghanistan to work as a Forward Air Controller in the autumn.

The crucially important job involved covert aerial surveillance of Taliban positions, co­ordinating planes and helicopters entering his area and - when necessary - calling in airstrikes.

"He's a really down ­to ­earth person," he said. "To be honest, I don't think anyone thinks of him as third ­in ­line to the throne or anything, you just take him at face value as any other Household Cavalry officer."

(KMcA)


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