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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 March 2008, 10:53 GMT
No quick return to war for Harry
Prince Harry with his battle group
Prince Harry has left his battle group behind
Prince Harry's wish to return to Afghanistan soon looks unlikely after the Army's chief appeared to rule it out for the next 18 months.

General Sir Richard Dannatt said there was no "immediate prospect" of him going "anywhere else" after returning from the country on Saturday.

It is a blow to the prince, who does not "want to sit around Windsor".

But Sir Richard stopped short of saying Prince William would not follow in his brother's footsteps and be deployed.

His predecessor, General Sir Mike Jackson, told BBC1's Andrew Marr show any future deployment of Prince Harry would have to ensure it did not put anybody else at greater risk, but added: "I wouldn't rule it out at all."

"As Prince Harry said, he now has a campaign medal. I wonder if it will the first and only one. Somehow I doubt that."

But he conceded that sending Prince William on active operations would be "rather more difficult" given his status as heir to the throne.

Taskforce request

Prince Harry returned to the UK on Saturday after a news leak cut short his front-line deployment. He was 10 weeks into a tour on the front line in Helmand Province.

When Harry's cover was blown and a news blackout on his presence lifted last week, he voiced hopes that he could return.

The prince said he had asked his commanding officer for permission to join 16 Air Assault Brigade - the taskforce due to take over the Helmand mission in the spring - for the last two months of their deployment.

General Sir Richard Dannatt
The prospect of Prince Harry going anywhere else is some way off in the future
General Sir Richard Dannatt

Sir Richard, chief of the Army's general staff, said: "As an enthusiastic young officer I would expect him to want to do that.

But he added: "He's just had a deployment, we wouldn't expect to send any young officer in the normal course of events who has just had - albeit 10 weeks and that quite quickly - for another tour.

"So actually the immediate prospect of Prince Harry going anywhere else is some way off in the future."

He said Harry had regimental commitments, and added: "It actually is hypothetical for the next 12 to 18 months whether he would or wouldn't deploy again."

Of a potential deployment for Prince William, he said: "A completely separate issue... (that) must be looked at again on a case-by-case basis."

"Red-blooded" man

During his mission, Harry spent time living and working just 500m from the Taleban front line at Garmsir and was on manoeuvres in the desert around their former stronghold of Musa Qaleh.

Prince Harry on patrol in Afghanistan
Prince Harry was on patrol in Garmsir near the front line

Sir Richard said there had been a risk assessment from the start. "There is a risk where all our servicemen and women deploy in Afghanistan, but the nature of the operations and the locations he would be in is exactly the sort of risk that we would expect a young officer to be exposed to.

"There's no reason why he shouldn't do that."

While he had not spoken to the "red-blooded young man" since the decision to bring him back, he said Harry would be "disappointed" but "understanding".

'Very good job'

And he said the prince's deployment had been invaluable in trying to explain to the British public the Army's mission in Afghanistan.

The final decision to withdraw Harry immediately was taken by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, chief of the defence staff.

"He has done so far a very good job in his army career. Of course it can never be like some ordinary person's career," he told Sky News. "But so far he has been able to have as close to a normal career as I think anyone in such circumstances every could have."

Sir Jock said he understood media "nerves" about agreeing a news blackout, but insisted its ability to report the "fundamentals" of the operation was never compromised.

"We are talking about the deployment of one individual, I really can't see that as an issue of principle of terms of media reporting."

His comments come after senior broadcaster Jon Snow questioned the British media's willingness to agree the blackout.

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