Afghanistan: Prince Harry Returns

They’re in their 20s, but like certain children, they have been told only one story, over and over. Like most children, they believe in an easily identifiable good and evil, and like most children, they are capable of unthinkable cruelty.

— Michael Cunningham, novelist (1952- )

Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, is to return to Afghanistan, later in the year, we are told. It was the stuff of discard “B” movies. He would be “one of the most treasured scalps” to the Taliban if captured; he will be “given a new identity (to ensure) he does not fall in to the hands of barbaric thugs.”

The partying Prince, unkindly dubbed the “spare heir” by the media, seemingly, suddenly has a value.

He is to fly Apache helicopters (there are pictures of him, spruced up, tooled up and standing in front of one.) He is to be taught “survival, evasion, resistance and escape”, in case of being shot down (a polishing up of a hitherto more simplistic method of getaway — attempting to floor photographers outside night clubs.)

Equipped with an SA80 Carbine and a pistol, he will be taught to “turn into a wild animal, survive in the desert like a beast … stink like an animal to confuse tracker dogs.” The RAF Press Officer who dreamed up this teenage fantasy is apparently unaware that the Afghans don’t use tracker dogs.  These are the invaders press-ganged, flown (or parachuted) in, canine accessory.

The adolescent scribbler was further carried away by Harry learning how to pee in a bottle “while flying at 180 mph … one of the hardest things (he’ll) have to learn.” I’ll spare you the remaining bathroom tuition.

Another pretty hard thing he will have to learn is to fly this notoriously tricky £40 million weapon of mass destruction whilst galvanising a weapons system, including a 1,200 round M230 Chain gun, Hydra air-to-ground rockets and Hellfire missiles. A30mm cannon with “huge” bullets, fires at 10, 20, or 30 a second. The gun can be eye operated, shooting activated via a monocle, swiveling to target, wherever the right eye focuses.

The Prince graduated with a lone B in art and D in geography, St James’ Palace announced in August 2003, leading the Times of India to comment less than charitably: “Prince qualifies for royal dunce.” (15 August 2003.) Last time he was in Afghanistan,* (spirited to safety when the Drudge Report broke a media blackout and reported proper news that he was there) he was in a bunker as a “forward air controller”, playing computer games, which called in the US Air force to kill Afghans (sorry, “repel Taliban insurgents.”) This time, if he gets the complicated hang of it, he will be doing it all by himself.

The young man, who greets his cousin’s rugby playing fiancé with the two finger hand-as-gun gesture to the head, should fit in well with the Apache pilots slice ‘em and dice ‘em mentality.

“It’s a huge buzz to fly an Apache. Every time I pulled the trigger, I (thought) there goes another £40,000″, Major Jim Panton told the Daily Mirror (17 June 2011.) No thought of more human lives, more grief-enveloped families collecting body parts. Panton finds the 30 mm Cannon killing-by-eye-action “the most sexy thing of all”, about the Apache.

In his outstanding book1 James Fergusson speaks to Apache wing man, Lieutenant Jack Denton: “When you are on top of the enemy you look, shoot and it’s you die, you die, you die”, he said. “Humanitarian intervention”, bloodily, sadistically, gleefully laid bare.

Ed Macy2 expounds gaily on the unique assets of a machine, following the “US military tradition” of new aircraft (names) honouring Indian tribes.” This one is ”the hunter-killer supreme for all future military wars … its destructive capability without precedent.”

For individual targets, the Cannon, at “ten High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds a second … makes light work of armoured personnel carriers, vehicles and buildings” with fragments on impact “throwing out hundreds of sharp, red-hot pieces of metal. The duality (is) the incendiary”, penetrating or damaging the target “it sets it alight.”

Concerned? There’s far worse. “The helicopter (packs up to) 1,160 of them, fired in bursts of 10, 20, 50, 100 – or all at once.” (Emphasis mine.)

Flechette rockets destroy people and vehicles. Each contains 80 five-inch long, tungsten darts. HEISAP is for buildings, vehicles and ships. Penetrating up to half an inch of steel, they also contain an explosive incendiary which sticks to alloys and combustibles “torching them.” They have been also used to great effect in Panama and Iraq.

The Hellfire missile packs “a five million pound per square inch punch on impact …”

Perhaps the ultimate confirmation as to how successful the military has become at dehumanizing a frightening amount of people is this paragraph:

Snipers and Apache pilots (are) the only two combatants to get a detailed look at the face of the man they (are) about to kill. Nine out of ten times, we’d watch them in close-up, on a five-inch-square screen before we pulled the trigger. It was no different to a sniper fixing his quarry in the sights of his bolt-action rifle, until the optimum moment to engage. We shared the same mindset; the mindset of a professional assassin. (Emphasis mine.)

Another pilot confirms:

You can see very clearly the people you kill. The Apache can cut people to shreds with its Cannon.

The British have recently sent Apaches to Libya to assist in the humanitarian carnage of the fantasy “no fly zone” there.

As for Prince Harry – who took a gap year billed as working with disadvantaged children in Africa and is likely now to shred their like and their families in Afghanistan – should he be unfortunate enough to be shot down, let’s hope his survival course and D level geography stand him in good stead. In truth, though, it is hard to care.

*  December 2007- February 2008

  1. James Fergusson,“A Million Bullets”, ISBN 978-0-552-15608-0 []
  2. Ed Macy,“Apache”, ISBN 978-0-00-728817-5 []

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.