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By Luke Baker
LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, has been secretly serving as a combat soldier on the front lines in Afghanistan for 2-1/2 months, the Ministry of Defence said on Thursday.
Following leaks in the international media about his deployment, officials said they were reviewing whether he should remain there, fearing that he could become a target for Taliban militants or other fighters.
Harry, 23, was deployed to Helmand, a dangerous region of southern Afghanistan, in December, seven months after plans to send him to Iraq were scrapped following threats from Iraqi militants to kidnap or kill him.
The army posted him to Afghanistan only after the British and selected members of the international media agreed not to report his presence until he had returned from a scheduled 4-6 month deployment.
That embargo was broken on Thursday after German, Australian and U.S. Web sites reported that he was there.
Harry has been responsible for calling in air strikes against Taliban positions, has conducted foot patrols through villages and has fired on suspected enemy combatants, pool photographs and footage have shown.
Before he was deployed, Harry, the son of Prince Charles and deceased Princess Diana, told reporters that he sometimes wished he was not a royal as it made it difficult to do things that he enjoyed, including fighting in the army.
"I wish that quite a lot actually," he said, adding of himself and his brother, William:
"William and I have said numerous times that there’s a lot of opportunities that we miss out on -- as well as we also got a lot of chances -- for who we are.
"At the beginning of this year (2007), it was very hard and I did think, `well, clearly one of the main reasons that I‘m not likely to be going (to war) was the fact of who I am’."
It was Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, who told him that he was to be sent to Afghanistan.
AL QAEDA TARGET?
In recent days, the prince has given interviews to reporters sent out to cover his deployment as part of a "pool" arrangement. He said he was aware that if his presence there was reported it could make him a target for al Qaeda or others.
"Once this film comes out there’ll probably be every single person, every single person that supports them will be trying to slot me," he said.
"Now that you come to think about it it’s quite worrying.
"I think there’s a lot of guys here who hopefully won’t be targeted, but as I say, now that this film has been made and now ... people will know I‘m out here, no doubt I’ll be a top target."
The head of the army, General Richard Dannatt, issued a statement expressing his disappointment that the press embargo -- a rare agreement in Britain’s usually free-for-all media environment -- had been broken by foreign media Web sites.
"In deciding to deploy him to Afghanistan, it was my judgment that with an understanding with the media not to broadcast his whereabouts, the risk in doing (so) was manageable," Dannatt said.
"Now that the story is in the public domain, the chief of staff and I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue.
"I now appeal to the media to restrain from attempting to report Prince Harry’s every move and return to our understanding."
Dannatt, whose decision it was to cancel Harry’s deployment to Iraq, said he had been a model soldier.
"His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary," he said. "He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else." (Reporting by Luke Baker; editing by Andrew Roche)