An American officer who served shoulder-to-shoulder with Prince Harry under fire in Afghanistan has told DailyMailTV how the royal laughed off risking death as he fought the Taliban and simply called himself ‘Harry’.
Colonel William Connor has revealed the secrets of life on the frontline with the Prince in 2007 and 2008, when the royal served in Helmand Province as a British cavalry officer during sustained fierce fighting with anti-government forces.
The South Carolina National Guardsman, an Army Ranger veteran, snapped pictures with the Prince – but also ran for cover along with him when they came under missile fire at the austere operating base they called home, and shared Christmas dinner in a mess hall just a few hundred yards from enemy lines.
Prince Harry’s service came to an abrupt end when he was revealed to be present in Afghanistan, and although he later returned to combat there as an Apache gunship pilot, he has spoken of his regret at not being able to fully serve with his comrades.
Now Col. Connor has told how he witnessed the Prince’s coolness under fire, his good humor – and his discomfort with special treatment due to his royal status.
Colonel William Connor served alongside Prince Harry on the frontline in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 when the royal served as a British cavalry officer. Pictured: Col. Connor with Prince Harry in December of 2007
Col. Connor ran for cover along with Harry when they came under missile fire at the austere operating base they called home. Pictured: A 24-year-old Harry manning a 50mm machine gun in the Helmand province on January 2, 2008
Col. Connor watched at close quarters as the Prince dealt with life on the frontline of the Taliban’s relentless assaults. Pictured: Harry sitting on his camp bed in his accommodation at FOB Delhi in 2008
Now Col. Connor tells DailyMailTV how he witnessed the Prince’s coolness under fire, his good humor – and his discomfort with special treatment due to his royal status
Col. Connor was then a major in South Carolina’s National Guard 218th Brigade Combat Team and assigned as the U.S. military’s senior liaison officer to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, then one of the most war-torn areas of Afghanistan and the theater of operations for British forces.
He was on a visit to a forward position just 500 yards from Taliban lines when he first met the Prince – who himself made a dramatic entrance by helicopter.
It was Christmas Eve 2007, and the forward position near Garmsir was one of the most dangerous places in the country, with intense fire between British and Taliban forces when the helicopter landed.
‘We knew a VIP was coming in,’ said Col. Connor, who was with a detachment of Ghurkas, British soldiers recruited from Nepal, at the time.
‘The first thing I saw was some of the Ghurkas taking pictures with Prince Harry. He had no security. He really expected no special treatment.’
There were only two other Americans present, a sergeant and a captain.
‘I told them, just keep your mouths shut on the Harry thing,’ he said.
‘We spent the next week or so eating meals with Prince Harry.’
The next day Col. Connor spent Christmas with Prince Harry in Forward Operating Base Delhi, manned by around 150 British troops – some of them Ghurkas and some from Prince Harry’s unit, the Household Cavalry, as well as Col. Connor’s small detachment and Afghan interpreters.
But there was never any special treatment or extra protection for the 24-year-old VIP officer, who was known as Coronet – the equivalent of 2nd Lieutenant – Wales, and to officers below the rank of lieutenant colonel simply as Harry.
The Prince’s deployment ended suddenly and dramatically when his cover was blown and news of his presence in the warzone flashed around the world. Prince Harry talks to a Gurkha after firing a 50mm machine gun at Taliban fighters on January 2, 2008
On New Year’s Day 2008, Harry fired his first shots in combat, at a British position on sight of enemy trenches. When up to 20 Taliban were seen approaching and apparently preparing to attack, he claimed a position at a .50 machine gun and opened fire. Pictured: Harry holding a SA-80 assault rifle, which is a standard issue weapon to UK military, while on patrol
Col. Connor and Harry even worked out together in the rudimentary gym – and had to rush to put on body armor when an incoming missile alarm went off
Prince Harry was deployed as a Forward Air Controller – or in the U.S. military, a JTAC, Joint Terminal Attack Controller – responsible for calling in air and artillery strikes on the Taliban under his call sign, Widow Six Seven. Pictured: Harry with Meghan Markle on their wedding day in May
Hero Harry: The royal’s years of service
May 2005: Prince Harry enters a 44-week training course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley, Surrey to begin his training as an Officer Cadet.
April 2006: Prince Harry becomes commissioned as an Army officer.
The Clarence House had announced earlier in the year that he would join the Household Cavalry’s Blues and Royals.
May 2006: Prince Harry joins his regiment and reports to the Armour Centre at Bovington in Dorset for the Troop Leaders’ Course.
October 2006: The royal completes his course and rejoins his regiment in Windsor.
Late 2007/Early 2008: Prince Harry serves on the frontline in Helmand, Afghanistan as a forward air controller. At the time, the information was kept secret to protect the royal and the troops.
Harry is forced to return early from the posting when a foreign website broke the news blackout on his deployment.
February 2008: The Ministry of Defence confirms that Prince Harry had been serving with the British Army in Afghanistan.
April 2008: Prince Harry is promoted to Lieutenant within his regiment.
January 2009: Prince Harry begins training with the Army Air Corps to become a pilot.
May 2010: Prince Harry finishes his training and is picked to fly the Apache Attack helicopter.
April 2011: Prince Harry is promoted to Captain and is also awarded an Apache Badge from his squadron’s Officer in Command.
October 2011: Prince Harry visits California in the U.S. to complete the final stages of the Apache Conversion to Role course.
February 2012: Prince Harry qualifies as a co-pilot gunner and is assigned to 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment within the 16 Air Assault Brigade.
September 2012: Prince Harry is deployed to Helmand, Afghanistan for the second time of his military service.
He is tasked with conducting an operational tour as an Apache pilot.
January 2013: Prince Harry completes his four month tour in Afghanistan.
Early 2014: Prince Harry takes a Staff Officer role in London to work on his plan to bring the Invictus Games to Britain.
March 2015: Kensington Palace announces Prince Harry is leaving the UK armed forces.
May 2017: It is announced Prince Harry will replace Prince Philip as ceremonial head of the Royal Marines.
September 2018: Prince Harry visits the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre as he carried out his first role as Captain General Royal Marines.
Instead Col. Connor watched at close quarters as the Prince dealt with life on the frontline of the Taliban’s relentless assaults.
The two even worked out together in the rudimentary gym – and had to rush to put on body armor when an incoming missile alarm went off.
‘We both threw on our body armor over our workout clothing and just looked at each other and laughed about the situation we were in,’ Col. Connor said.
The situation was in reality no laughing matter, however cool the Prince was under fire.
Prince Harry was deployed as a Forward Air Controller – or in the U.S. military, a JTAC, Joint Terminal Attack Controller – responsible for calling in air and artillery strikes on the Taliban under his call sign, Widow Six Seven.
FOB Delhi was under small arms, missile and rocket-propelled grenade fire constantly.
It was built in a previously bombed and shelled compound, brutally hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter, when both Col. Connor and Prince Harry served there.
‘We were under constant operations. There was very little sleep,’ he said.
Rations were poor, and the Ghurkas went out to forage for chickens and sheep, and made curry.
‘The British had these rations, seemed to me just beans and franks. They would trade with the Americans.
‘When we ate, we ate at the officers’ mess, and there were very few of us there,’ Col. Connor said.
There was no air conditioning, no heating, and little chance of unbroken sleep – while there was no running water and showers improvised from bags of water.
‘You could be woken up with things going on, night operations, and a constant inflow of people going to the forward positions,’ Col. Conner said.
‘There were two or three mortar pits firing off against the Taliban. Everyone smells. You’re constantly in your dirty uniform. It was a tough life, being shot at and shooting back.’
Col. Connor was with him under fire for a week, when the Prince was calling in airstrikes from allied airpower.
But it was only their first time of service together, as early in February they met again, in the course of a massive push to reach the strategically vital Kajaki Dam, through areas under Taliban control.
The troops had to take a 220-tonne turbine in a convoy of vehicles two and a half miles long through the desert so it could be installed at the dam, to secure power supply for the troubled country.
The effort – Operation Eagle Claw – involved a huge push through Taliban control territory, with troops going house to house to flush out fighters,
The Prince was in command of a squadron of light tanks, and calling in air and artillery strikes from the turret of his Scimitar.
Col. Connor and other American troops were advising the around 1,000 men from Afghan forces involved in the operation.
Col. Connor was with Prince Harry under fire for a week, when the Prince was calling in airstrikes from allied airpower. Pictured: Col. Connor with his wife Susan at his Ranger Graduation in 1991
Col. Connor (pictured on ‘storm duty’ in 2016) and other American troops were advising the around 1,000 men from Afghan forces involved in the operation. The fighting was intense – and Prince Harry was in the thick of it. ‘We could hear Prince Harry on the radio,’ Col. Connor said
Col. Connor (pictured) said: ‘Clearly [Prince Harry] was willing to die. He could have been in a safer position. I was impressed he chose to take the hard road’
The fighting was intense – and Prince Harry was in the thick of it.
‘We could hear Prince Harry on the radio,’ Col. Connor said.
One artillery strike he ordered fell so close to a sleeping Col. Connor that pebbles rained down on him and his men.
‘He had sent an illumination round up,’ said Col. Connor. ‘Our guys were on rest and some pebbles came down. It was not his fault. They were saying, ‘Gosh darn it, that Prince Harry!’
‘It was really sustained fighting on that operation – it was 24 hours a day.’
Prince Harry was there through it.
‘He was in the thick of things. He was in the thick of the fighting. He was the real deal,’ Col. Conner said.
‘He cast aside, came down range, got shot at, put his life on the line and led by example.’
The Prince’s deployment ended suddenly and dramatically when his cover was blown and news of his presence in the warzone flashed around the world.
Col. Connor’s laconic reaction was to tell his men, who had keep the secret of the royal in the battle zone: ‘You can tell your wives.’
Pictured: Prince Harry sits in his position on a Spartan armored vehicle on February 18, 2008. Col. Connor said he had seen the cost of operations in Helmand Province first-hand – so he knew what the Prince was volunteering for
There was never any special treatment or extra protection for the VIP officer, who was known as Coronet – the equivalent of 2nd Lieutenant – Wales, and to officers below the rank of lieutenant colonel simply as Harry
The royal, aged 24 at the time, looks through sights of his SA-80 assault rifle while on patrol through the deserted town of Garmisir
In interviews given to a British reporter embedded with him at FOB Delhi, the Prince spoke of his delight in ‘mucking’ together with his comrades in the fight against ‘Terry Taliban.’
On New Year’s Day 2008, he fired his first shots in combat, at a British position on sight of enemy trenches.
When up to 20 Taliban were seen approaching and apparently preparing to attack, he claimed a position at a .50 machine gun and opened fire.
‘It’s just no-man’s land… they poke their heads up and that’s it,’ he said.
He also took part in street patrols in Garmsir, and was photographed walking past a boy on a donkey in a town riddled with Taliban bunkers and snipers.
‘Just walking around, some of the locals or the ANP [Afghan National Police], they haven’t got a clue who I am, they wouldn’t know,’ he said afterwards.
The presence of the prince – who was then third in line to the British throne; he is now sixth – had been a tightly-held secret which had taken months of planning.
He trained as a cavalry officer and had nearly quit when the Army decided it was too risky to deploy him to Iraq.
Instead he was deployed eventually to Afghanistan and was praised by senior officers for his performance.
Col. Connor disclosed that then Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, then the commander of British forces in Afghanistan, now the British Chief of the General Staff, the head of the British Army, had come to see the Prince.
Prince Harry talks to a Gurkha soldier at the observation post on JTAC Hill, close to FOB Delhi (forward operating base), on January 2, 2008, in Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan
Prince Harry holds his SA-80 as he prepares to patrol through the deserted town of Garmisir. In interviews given to a British reporter embedded with him at FOB Delhi, the Prince spoke of his delight in ‘mucking’ together with his comrades in the fight against ‘Terry Taliban’
Harry visiting The Royal Marines Commando Training Centre on September 13 in Lympstone, United Kingdom. The Duke arrived via helicopter for his first visit in his role as Captain General Royal Marines
But the Prince was less than keen on the attention.
‘I could see some of the officers, not the brigadier, trying to get his attention, and he was not happy,’ Col. Connor said.
The American officer told DailyMailTV that the Prince met his definition of a hero.
He volunteered for duty in Garmsir, which at the time was the most dangerous place a British soldier could be.
‘He could have stayed in Kabul, or some big operating base in Bastion [the main British base, now run by U.S. Marines],’ said Col. Connor.
‘Garmsir took the cake for the most violent action against the Taliban and that’s where he went.
The American officer told DailyMailTV that the Prince met his definition of a hero
‘Clearly he was willing to die. He could have been in a safer position. I was impressed he chose to take the hard road.
‘I have seen people that have taken advantage of being VIP and getting different kinds of treatment.
‘Someone who is that far up in the royal family – but is so humble in the way he projects himself.’
‘He was not Prince Harry, he was just Harry.’
Col. Connor had seen the cost of operations in Helmand Province first-hand – so he knew what the Prince was volunteering for.
British soldiers had concerns over equipment, including the use of lightly armored Land Rovers which could not withstand IEDs, and the Taliban insurgency in the province was one of the most active in the country.
‘The British during that time were losing a substantial number of people. I remember a very long stream of ceremonies for British dead,’ he said.
‘There was a decent chance you would not come back. He must have mentally gone through, yes I could die, and he went ahead and took this risk for his nation.’
And he said that even though Harry was a senior member of the royal family, he respected him as an officer.
‘He seemed to be respected, not in a way that was forced because he was a prince but because he was a good officer,’ he said.
‘He was respected. That’s something that’s earned, not given. He had earned that respect among his men.’