Prince Harry begins combat tour in Afghanistan

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CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, began a four-month combat tour Friday in Afghanistan as a gunner on an Apache attack helicopter, fresh from a vacation that included strip billiards in a Las Vegas hotel.

It was the second tour in Afghanistan for Harry, 27, who will start flying missions within 10 days in the country's restive Helmand province, the British military said. In 2007-08, he served in Helmand as an air traffic controller.

Looking relaxed if slightly tired, Harry gave a thumbs-up Friday after a long journey on a troop carrier flight from England to Britain's Camp Bastion, a sprawling desert base near the southern Afghan town of Lashkar Gah.

Capt. Harry Wales, as he is known in the military, wore his combat uniform and joined his 100-strong unit -- the 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.

As part of the Apache's two-man crew, Harry will be both a co-pilot and the gunner responsible for firing the Apache's wing-mounted aerial rockets, Hellfire laser-guided missiles and 30 mm machine gun.

Britain has about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, mainly based in Helmand province, and has suffered 425 deaths since the start of operations there in 2001.

"Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honor to represent his country in her majesty's armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him," St James's Palace said in a statement.

Harry did not speak as he arrived in Helmand, and was not expected to comment publicly on his work for several weeks.

St James's Palace said Prince Charles was "immensely proud of his son" and he and the queen had been briefed on the details of Harry's deployment.

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