KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) — Prince Harry arrived in Afghanistan on Friday on a four-month military deployment in his role as an Apache helicopter pilot, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said.
Harry, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and third in line to the British throne, is a captain in Britain’s Army Air Corps.
He will be stationed at dusty Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province — considered a Taliban heartland — with the 100-strong 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.
The austere conditions will be a far cry from the more luxurious lifestyle he enjoys when on leave in the United Kingdom — or on his widely covered trip to Las Vegas last month, where a scandal broke after he was photographed naked while partying in his hotel room on what turns out to have been a predeployment vacation.
Prince Harry served briefly in Afghanistan four years ago, but he was hurriedly withdrawn amid safety fears when news of his deployment to a small forward operating base leaked.
The media are allowed to report on his deployment this time, although the timing of his arrival in Afghanistan was kept under wraps.
Harry qualified to fly an Apache attack helicopter in combat early this year, after doing some of his training over the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. He won an award as best co-pilot gunner in his peer group during training.
The Camp Bastion complex, near the large U.S. Camp Leatherneck, is one of the busiest airfields in the world, with more than 28,000 people working on site, according to the UK Ministry of Defense.
While stationed there, Prince Harry will be part of the Joint Aviation Group, which provides support to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and Afghan forces in the region.
Capt. Jock Gordon, commander of the Joint Aviation Group, welcomed Prince Harry to Camp Bastion — and appealed for him to be allowed to get on with his job.
“Working together with his colleagues in the squadron, he will be in a difficult and demanding job, and I ask that he be left to get on with his duties and allowed to focus on delivering support to the coalition troops on the ground,” he said, in remarks quoted by the Press Association news agency.
The Ministry of Defense said Harry’s squadron would “provide surveillance, deterrence and, when required, close combat attack capabilities as well as escort duties for other aircraft.”
Since Harry qualified in February he has been gaining additional flying experience with 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the statement said.
“He has been trained to fly in the front seat as the mission commander, a role that equips the operative to fly the aircraft from the back seat but the majority of the time involves operating the Apache’s sights, sensors and weapons systems,” it said.
Harry was withdrawn only 10 weeks into his last deployment to Afghanistan, amid concern that knowledge of his presence there could expose him and his fellow troops to greater risk.
This time, he is based in a more secure military complex, and Apache helicopters are a target for Taliban attacks regardless of whether Prince Harry is piloting them or not.
His deployment is expected to be a big morale boost for British forces in Afghanistan and may go some way to restoring his public image following last month’s scandal.
The prince hit the headlines after he was photographed naked while in his swanky Las Vegas hotel suite with friends and a group of women they had met.
The images were widely published on the Internet and by Britain’s best-selling tabloid newspaper The Sun, prompting questions about media invasion of privacy.
Other UK media outlets respected a request by St. James’s Palace not to publish the images, one of which showed Harry using his hands to shield his modesty, while another showed his bare bottom.
The Press Complaints Commission, the UK newspaper watchdog, said Thursday it had received about 3,800 complaints from the public about the decision by The Sun to publish the images — but none from palace officials.
“The Commission is in continuing dialogue with Prince Harry’s representatives but as yet has not received a formal complaint,” the commission said in a statement.
While the body appreciates the concerns raised by members of the public, an investigation without the consent and involvement of royal officials would be “inappropriate,” the statement said.
Before the drama over the photographs, Prince Harry had won praise from the UK media in recent months for embracing a more central public role in support of the queen in her diamond jubilee year.
This included representing his grandmother at the Olympics Closing Ceremony and on a royal tour to the Caribbean.
CNN’s Anna Coren contributed from Kabul; Max Foster and Laura Smith-Spark reported from London.
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