'Top Gun' Prince Harry set for Afghanistan return
Britain's Prince Harry could return to Afghanistan after he qualified as an Apache attack helicopter pilot with an award for his gunnery skills, the Ministry of Defence said on Thursday.
The 27-year-old -- the third in line to the British throne -- won his wings after completing 18 months of "intensive" training including a stint in the United States.
Harry received an award for being the best co-pilot gunner at a dinner on Wednesday to celebrate the completion of the training by around 20 pilots, St James's Palace said in a statement.
He was given a polished 30-millimetre round from an Apache cannon, mounted on a stand, at the dinner at Wattisham Air Station in Suffolk, eastern England, where he has been training.
A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed that Harry could serve in Afghanistan but that the young royal first had to gain further operational experience.
"We do not comment on individual states of deployment. But in the normal run of things we would expect that he would be deployed in eight to 12 months," the spokesman told AFP.
As co-pilot gunner, Harry sits in the front seat of the Apache and is responsible for commanding the mission, firing weapons, liaising with forces on the ground, with some flying duties.
Harry's father, heir to the throne Prince Charles, was "very proud" of his son's achievement, Charles's office said.
Harry, a captain with the Army Air Corps, is reported to be keen to return to combat in Afghanistan after he was hastily withdrawn from his first tour of duty in 2008 when a media blackout was broken.
His elder brother Prince William is currently on a six-week tour of duty as a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot in the Falkland Islands -- a deployment that Argentina, which claims the British-ruled archipelago as its own, has slammed as "a provocation".
Britain has around 9,500 service personnel fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, the second largest contingent after the United States.
Britain has used the two-man helicopters in Afghanistan to hunt Taliban fighters, gather intelligence and provide cover for larger Chinook transport helicopters.
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