Generals are considering whether to pull Prince Harry out of Afghanistan after details of his secret deployment were broadcast around the world.
The head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, must decide whether to implement emergency plans to extract the third in line to the throne after the breakdown of a news blackout deal struck to preserve his safety.
The 23-year-old Household Cavalry officer has spent the past 10 weeks living his lifelong dream of serving on the frontline, fighting the Taliban in Helmand province.
But US political blog the Drudge Report revealed broke the news yesterday which had been under a voluntary embargo agreed by all UK newspapers and broadcasters.
The Ministry of Defence has held several meetings with senior editors over the last three months to organise the black-out, which has been observed.
Under the agreement, interview footage and images were to be made available to all media at the end of his 14 week tour – but the MoD’s hand has been forced and some of the material appears to have been released early.
Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the general staff and head of the army said: “I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us . This is in stark contrast to the hightly responsible attitude of the whole of the UK print and broadcast media.”
The website of Australian women’s magazine New Idea first ran the story on 7 January and German tabloid Bild has been running the story as an unconfirmed rumour.
Working as a battlefield air controller and Spartan light tank commander, he was able to operate within sight of enemy positions – at one point living just 500 metres from the Taliban frontline trenches.
During a posting to Garmsir, the southern-most part of the province under allied control, he was able to go on patrol and mix with locals who had no idea he was a senior member of the Royal Family.
His work as a ‘JTAC'(Joint Terminal Attack Controller) involved carrying out detailed aerial surveillance behind Taliban lines and even calling in bomb strikes on confirmed enemy bunker positions.
Harry considered leaving the Army last Spring after news of his planned deployment to Iraq forced Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, to intervene to stop his trip over fears for his and his comrades’ safety.
But he was given fresh hope by the chance to retrain as a JTAC – also known as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) – in order to go to Afghanistan as part of a battlegroup centred on his own regiment the Household Cavalry.
Dannatt said: ‘Now that the story is in the public domain, the Chief of Defence Staff and I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue.’