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Prince Harry in Afghanistan as Apache co-pilot gunner

CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan--Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, began a four-month combat tour Friday in Afghanistan as a gunner on an Apache attack helicopter, fresh from a vacation that included strip billiards in a Las Vegas hotel.

It was the second tour in Afghanistan for Harry, 27, who will start flying missions within 10 days in the country's restive Helmand province, the British military said. In 2007-08, he served in Helmand as an air traffic controller.

Looking relaxed if slightly tired, Harry gave a thumbs-up Friday after a long journey on a troop carrier flight from England to Britain's Camp Bastion, a sprawling desert base near the southern Afghan town of Lashkar Gah.

Capt. Harry Wales, as he is known in the military, wore his combat uniform and joined his 100-strong unit — the 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.

As part of the Apache's two-man crew, Harry will be both a co-pilot and the gunner responsible for firing the Apache's wing-mounted aerial rockets, Hellfire laser-guided missiles and 30mm machine gun.

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, mainly based in Helmand province, and has suffered 425 deaths since the start of operations there in 2001.

“Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honor to represent his country in her majesty's armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him,” St James's Palace said in a statement.

Harry did not speak as he arrived in Helmand, and was not expected to comment publicly on his work for several weeks.

The prince's previous posting as a battlefield air traffic controller in Afghanistan in late 2007 and early 2008 lasted only 10 weeks. It was cut short after his deployment was made public.

Britain's defense ministry had asked the news media not to report information surrounding the prince's deployment, saying the publicity could put him and his colleagues in greater danger, but an Australian magazine not aware of the agreement broke the news. It was picked up by both the Drudge Report website and a German publication.

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Britain's Prince Harry is shown the Apache flight-line Friday, Sept. 7, by a member of his squadron (name not provided) at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, where he will be operating from during his tour of duty as a co-pilot gunner. The prince has returned to Afghanistan to fly attack helicopters in the fight against the Taliban. (AP)

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