What did Prince Harry really say about killing Taliban fighters?

Duke of Sussex criticised for alleged 'boast' about the tally in his ghost-written book, Spare

Prince Harry and fellow pilots race from their tents to scramble their Apaches. AP
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Prince Harry has accused the media of a “dangerous lie” in saying that he “boasted” about the number of people he killed in Afghanistan.

The allegations came after he unveiled the tally in his ghost-written book, Spare.

Speaking in an interview with a late-night talk host, the Duke of Sussex said: "Without a doubt, the most dangerous lie that they have told is that I somehow boasted about the number of people that I killed in Afghanistan.

"I should say, if I heard anyone boasting about that kind of thing, I would be angry.

“But it's a lie. My words are not dangerous, but the spin of my words are very dangerous," said the prince, who was seen entering the building for the interview accompanied by an armed bodyguard.

But what did he actually say?

The National explains.

Prince Harry on patrol in the town of Garmisir in  Afghanistan in 2008. AP

The section

In his autobiography, the duke points out that most soldiers are not able to say how many people they have killed.

“In battle conditions, there’s often a great deal of indiscriminate firing. But in the age of Apaches and laptops, everything I did in the course of two combat tours was recorded, time-stamped,” he writes.

“I could always say precisely how many enemy combatants I’d killed.

“And I felt it vital never to shy away from that number. Among the many things I learnt in the army, accountability was near the top of the list.

So my number: Twenty-five. It wasn’t a number that gave me any satisfaction. But neither was it a number that made me feel ashamed.

In pictures: Prince Harry's tour of duty in Afghanistan

“Naturally, I’d have preferred not to have that number on my military CV, on my mind, but by the same token I’d have preferred to live in a world in which there was no Taliban, a world without war.”

He says he did not “think of those twenty-five as people”.

“They were chess pieces removed from the board, Bads taken away before they could kill Goods. I’d been trained to ‘other-ize’ them, trained well.

“On some level I recognised this learned detachment as problematic. But I also saw it as an unavoidable part of soldiering.”

Why he included it

Harry told show host Stephen Colbert he was driven to discuss his kills by the goal of reducing veteran suicides.

"I made a choice to share it because having spent nearly two decades working with veterans all around the world, I think the most important thing is to be honest and to give space to others to be able to share their experiences without any shame," he said.

"And my whole goal, my attempt with sharing that detail, is to reduce the number of suicides."

The fallout from the comments

Speaking to The National, members of the military accused Prince Harry of “betraying the ethos” of the British Army, saying it was pathetic to disclose that he killed 25 fighters in Afghanistan.

A senior officer said the account also gives a false portrayal of the British military training by dehumanising the enemy in referring to them as “chess pieces”.

“Bragging about how many enemy soldiers you can have killed is simply not what British soldiers do,” he said.

“I, like every British soldier serving or veteran, am hugely disappointed that Prince Harry has betrayed the fighting ethos of the British Army.”

Prince Harry wearing a monocle gun sight in a gunship cockpit at Camp Bastion, southern Afghanistan. AP

Other experts said the prince has rekindled the threat against his life.

“Maybe their memories had faded but this will certainly resurrect the desire of some people to take revenge against him,” said Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan in 2003.

It is understood that UK counter-terrorist officers will now examine the security risk the disclosures bring, with the Home Office likely to review its decision to withdraw Prince Harry’s close protection when in Britain.

One of the duke’s bodyguards was seen carrying a Glock box, which is used to store weapons and ammunition, while he was making his way into the building in New York for his interview with Colbert.

Updated: January 11, 2023, 2:50 PM
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