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Thursday, April 26, 2007

‘Dry run’ attack forces Prince Harry retreat

Army chiefs fear that a fatal attack on two British soldiers in Iraq last week was a dry run for an attempt on Prince Harry’s life, The Times has learnt.

The attack was made on a type of vehicle that the Prince will use, and took place in a part of the country where he is due to be deployed as early as next month. The two died when their Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb – the first time that British soldiers had been killed in a Scimitar as a result of enemy action.

The Army fears that extremists deliberately chose the vehicle knowing that the Prince is a troop leader for a Scimitar-equipped unit.

Prince Harry faces a kidnap threat from insurgents, who have become active this month even within bases used by the British Army in southern Iraq. Security has been tightened at Camp Sparrowhawk, a base in Maysan Province used by reconnaissance units such as Prince Harry’s.

British soldiers are under orders not to walk around the Iraqi-run base for fear of kidnapping, either by insurgents who have infiltrated Iraqi ranks, or by Iraqi soldiers who are tempted by the possibility of ransom.

A British commanding officer at the base also said that insurgents were “trying out new devices” against his troops. He added that his men were often being tracked by militias using mobile phones and by observers on motorbikes.

The eleventh-hour review about sending Prince Harry to the area follows an alarming rise in attacks this year. Of the 17 British personnel to be killed in 2007, 11 died in the last month. Prince Harry, 22, has been trained to take command of four Scimitars when his unit, A Squadron The Blues and Royals, part of the Household Cavalry, is sent to Iraq.

The two soldiers who died in last week’s attack were Corporal Ben Leaning, 24, and Trooper Kristen Turton, 28, both from The Queen’s Royal Lancers. Their bodies were repatriated to Britain yesterday. Another soldier was very seriously wounded.

The attack has also raised further concerns that the presence of Prince Harry might increase the risk of casualties during his six-month deployment.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army who made the decision to send Prince Harry to Iraq after consultation with Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, will make the final judgment. He has about a week to decide whether to stick to his original decision or to keep him at home.

The Ministry of Defence and royal sources said that at present Prince Harry was still bound for Iraq, unless General Dannatt changed his mind.

Defence sources said that every aspect of Prince Harry’s deployment was being reassessed, and that the military and intelligence services in Iraq had been asked urgently to give their views.

They added that General Dannatt wanted to know if the insurgents had acquired a greater capability to attack British troops, if there would be a higher risk of casualties with the Prince serving as an officer, and if security conditions had significantly deteriorated since the earlier decision in February.

One of the key judgments is whether Prince Harry can do the job for which he is trained without putting himself and his men at an unacceptable risk. Defence sources said that the Prince – known in the Army as 2nd Lieutenant (Cornet) Wales – would not be spending all his time in a Scimitar vehicle carrying out operations.

“Like any other officer of his rank, he will also be required to do desk work, either as a watch-keeper or planning missions, so he will spend some of his time back at base anyway,” one source said.

However, the judgment is that there is no point in sending Prince Harry to do a permanent desk job for six months when he has trained to command 11 men as a troop leader in a reconnaissance role.

Even sitting in a base has become risky as every location where British soldiers are serving comes under fire almost daily. “Nowhere is perfectly safe in Iraq,” one defence source admitted.

But the current intelligence judgment is that the insurgents have not acquired a new capability that made it easier for them to target British units, or to close in on Prince Harry’s squadron.

Royal sources made it clear that the final decision was in the hands of the Army. They said that he was still eager to go and that he would be “extremely disappointed” if the decision was reversed.

They dismissed claims from inside the Household Cavalry that he would quit the Army if he was barred from going to Iraq. “Prince Harry is a grown-up and he’ll take whatever the decision is, but he wants to go to Iraq, and to say he would quit the Army if he didn’t is way too strong,” one said.

Friends of the Prince confirmed that he had no intention of resigning his commission.

Defence sources said that the review of the decision would continue “right up until Prince Harry is due to leave for Iraq”.

the times
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