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Taliban targeted Afghanistan base to get to Prince Harry

An anti-Islam video spurred the attack, but the NATO site in Helmand province was chosen because the Taliban wants to kill or capture Prince Harry, a helicopter pilot, a Taliban spokesman says.

September 16, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • The Taliban chose the NATO base Camp Bastion in Helmand province to attack because Britain's Prince Harry, left, is stationed there, a Taliban spokesman said. The Apache helicopter pilot is known in the military as Capt. Harry Wales.
The Taliban chose the NATO base Camp Bastion in Helmand province to attack… (John Stillwell / Pool Photo )

KABUL, Afghanistan — Does a prince's presence endanger those serving alongside him?

The Taliban launched a rare all-out assault on the heavily fortified NATO base in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province where Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is deployed. The attack lasted into the early hours of Saturday and left two U.S. Marines dead, military officials said.

Afterward, a Taliban spokesman reiterated the group's desire to kill or capture Queen Elizabeth II's grandson.

It was a violent 24-hour period: 12 civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province, and two NATO service members were killed in southern Afghanistan by a member of a U.S.-mentored village militia, the latest in a spate of "insider" attacks this year.

The prince, who is known in the military as Capt. Harry Wales, began his second deployment in Afghanistan only a week ago, on the heels of a naked hotel-room escapade in Las Vegas that swiftly made its way onto the Internet. He is serving as an Apache helicopter pilot based at the British-run Camp Bastion.

Late Friday, a group of heavily armed Taliban fighters made a rare attempt to storm Camp Bastion, which is joined to an American-run installation known as Camp Leatherneck. The combined bases share an airfield, which the Taliban struck, damaging buildings and aircraft, according to a coalition statement.

The British military said Prince Harry, who turned 28 on Saturday, was in a "secure location" about a mile away, with fellow Apache pilots. But two U.S. Marines died in the ferocious assault, in which insurgents managed to breach the base's perimeter. About 17 Taliban fighters were killed, military officials said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid described the attack as being in general retaliation for an amateurish anti-Islam video widely seen on YouTube, but said Prince Harry was a target.

"There are many other foreign bases … but we stormed this one because of Prince Harry's presence there," he said.

The British government made the somewhat controversial decision to announce the start of the prince's deployment, after a previous stint in Afghanistan in 2008 was cut short when an Australian news outlet leaked the information that he was serving as a field air controller in a forward ground unit in Helmand. This time, officials emphasized that his base was at well-defended Camp Bastion.

Coinciding with word of the attack, President Hamid Karzai managed to push through the parliament three of his four choices for key Cabinet posts. Those approved by lawmakers included former Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid, accused by human rights groups of running a private prison in which detainees were tortured. He is the new head of the National Directorate of Security. Winning a vote of confidence as defense minister was Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, who had been fired just weeks earlier as the interior minister.

The reshuffling of top ministers in Karzai's government, including those responsible for overseeing the Afghan police and army, had created some anxiety among the Afghan leader's Western backers, coming at a time when more fighting duties are being handed over to the Afghan security forces in preparation for NATO's combat role ending in 2014.

laura.king@latimes.com

Times staff writer Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.

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