Britain’s Prince Harry said he killed Taliban fighters during his stint as a helicopter gunner in Afghanistan, in comments that can be reported after he completed his tour of duty on Monday.
Harry, third in line to the throne, spent a 20-week posting flying scores of missions over the restive southern Helmand Province in an Apache attack chopper.
The 28-year-old said Islamist insurgents were put “out of the game” and described life in Britain’s sprawling Camp Bastion base, where he slept in a tent and a shipping container.
Asked by Britain’s Press Association if he had killed from the cockpit, Harry said: “Yeah, so lots of people have. The squadron’s been out here. Everyone’s fired a certain amount.
“Take a life to save a life,” he shrugged. “That’s what we revolve around, I suppose. If there’re people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game.
“As soon as we’re outside the fence, we’re in the thick of it. We fire when we have to… but essentially we’re more of a deterrent than anything else.”
Harry spoke to reporters on three occasions during his time in Afghanistan under an agreement which only allowed the interviews to be released once he left the war zone.
The prince supported allied troops fighting the Taliban at close quarters and accompanied British and US helicopters on missions to evacuate casualties.
As co-pilot in the Apache, Harry was in charge of the weapons systems in the two-man cockpit, firing Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, rockets and a 30-millimetre gun.
“It’s a joy for me because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful,” he said.
When on a shift requiring a high level of readiness, Harry and the other three members of his squadron sprinted to their helicopters in less than 45 seconds and were airborne within five minutes of an alert.
They did not know their missions until they were inside their £45-million ($71-million, 54-million-euro) aircraft.
Harry served in the 130-strong 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.
He insisted that his life in Camp Bastion was “as normal as it’s going to get”, although the prince admitted he was frustrated by staring from fellow troops he had not previously met.
“I go into the cookhouse and everyone has a good old gawp, and that’s one thing that I dislike about being here,” he said.
Harry admitted he would rather be out on the ground again in a small patrol base with the Household Cavalry regiment.
In his previous stint in Afghanistan, before he trained as a pilot, he served 10 weeks in 2007-2008 coordinating air attacks on the Taliban, although the deployment had to be hastily cut short when a news blackout on his deployment was broken.
Of the major royal event in his absence — the announcement that his brother Prince William and wife Catherine are expecting a baby in July — Harry said he “can’t wait to be an uncle”.
William, who flies a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter in Wales, has been blocked from going to Afghanistan because it is considered too dangerous to send the second in line to the throne.
Harry said: “He’d love to be out here. And, to be honest with you, I don’t see why he couldn’t… No one knows who’s in the cockpit.
“Yes, you get shot at. But if the guys who are doing the same job as us are being shot at on the ground, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us being shot at as well.”
Harry also described his “anger” at the media and accused newspapers of printing “rubbish” and depriving him of a private life.
“All it does is upset me and anger me that people can get away with writing the stuff they do,” he told ITV News.
“My father (Prince Charles) always says don’t read it, everyone says don’t read it, because it’s always rubbish. I’m surprised how many in the UK actually read it.”
He stressed that the public was “guilty for buying the newspapers” but added he hoped “nobody actually believes what they read, I certainly don’t”.
Harry traced his mistrust of the media back to his mother’s 1997 death in a Paris car crash after she was pursued by photographers.
“I think it’s fairly obvious how far back it goes — to when I was very small,” he told the news network.
The prince, third-in-line to the British throne, slammed newspapers for “forcing” his brother and sister-in-law into revealing they were expecting a baby.
He also rubbished reports he had written to Catherine from his Camp Bastion base.
“How any of the papers think that they know the relationship between myself and my sister-in-law is quite remarkable,” he complained. “They’re wrong, as always.”
According to Harry, one of the “great” things about being in the war-torn nation was that “it’s away from all the media back home, which is one of the real negative points about the UK.”
He highlighted the publication of nude photographs of him in a Las Vegas hotel room taken shortly before his five-month deployment as an example of press intrusion.
“I probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down,” the prince said.
“But at the end of the day, I was in a private area and there should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect.
“I don’t believe there is any such thing as private life anymore.”