London: Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, returned to Afghanistan on Friday to begin a four-month combat tour as a frontline Apache helicopter pilot.
27-year-old Harry, known as Captain Wales in the British military, was in news last month when he was photographed nude during a wild party in a Las Vegas hotel.
He arrived at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, four-year after he had to cut short his previous deployment in the troubled nation. In 2008, Harry had to leave Afghanistan after a news blackout surrounding his deployment was broken.
Harry will be working as part of the Joint Aviation Group (JAG) which provides helicopter support to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan forces operating throughout Regional Command (South West), the Ministry of Defence said in a statement here.
Based in Bastion, the largest coalition military base in Afghanistan, his squadron will provide surveillance, deterrence and, when required, close combat attack capabilities as well as escort duties for other aircraft, the statement added.
Captain Wales qualified as a co-pilot gunner in February this year and was posted to 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, to gain further flying experience and to operate the aircraft on a number of exercises.
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.
The Deputy Commander of the JAG and Commanding Officer of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps in the UK, Lieutenant Colonel Tom de la Rue, said: "Captain Wales is a serving soldier and a qualified Apache pilot having completed the Apache Conversion to Role course earlier this year.
As such, and after further flying experience, he has deployed along with the rest of the squadron as part of a long-planned and scheduled deployment to provide support to ISAF and Afghan forces operating in Helmand".
The ministry statement said as with all operational deployments, Captain Wales's deployment had been long-planned and the threat to him and others around him thoroughly assessed.
The Apache AH Mk1 fleet consists of 67 aircraft that have seen service in Afghanistan and in Libya.
They are designed to hunt and destroy armoured vehicles and can operate in all weathers, day and night, the statement said.
The fleet can also detect, classify and prioritise up to 256 targets in seconds through their fire control radar, and carry a mix of weapons, including rockets, Hellfire missiles and a 30mm chain gun, the statement added.
First Published: Friday, September 07, 2012, 18:28