Prince Harry’s “explosive” boast about 25 Taliban kills could be problematic for him and Britain

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

Of all the “explosive” revelations made by Harry, the Duke of Sussex, in his upcoming memoir ‘Spare’, perhaps the most damning from the standpoint of the international community is his claim about the number of Taliban members he killed during his second tour of Afghanistan in 2012.

Excerpts from ‘Spare’ published by the Guardian newspaper say Harry writes that as a gunner in an Apache attack helicopter he killed 25 Taliban insurgents. “In the era of Apaches and laptops”, he writes, it is possible to say “with exactness how many enemy combatants I had killed. And it seemed to me essential not to be afraid of that number. So my number is 25. It’s not a number that fills me with satisfaction, but nor does it embarrass me.”

The tone of the claim may not be necessarily boastful but his suggestion that those killed were “chess pieces” betrays a cavalier attitude that is expected to have some foreign policy implications. As expected, the Taliban was quick to respond. Anas Haqqani, an influential Taliban leader, tweeted, “The ones you killed were not chess pieces, they were humans; they had families who were waiting for their return. Among the killers of Afghans, not many have your decency to reveal their conscience and confess to their war crimes.”

“The truth is what you’ve said. Our innocent people were chess pieces to your soldiers, military and political leaders. Still, you were defeated in that “game” of white & black “square”. I don’t expect that the ICC (International Criminal Court) will summon you or the human rights activists will condemn you, because they are deaf and blind for you. But hopefully these atrocities will be remembered in the history of humanity,” Haqqani said.

It is remarkable that in publicly claiming the number of Taliban kills, Harry has handed a perfect opportunity to the Taliban to twist it to suit its own ends. It has also possibly created more danger to his personal security potentially making him a terrorist target.

It was a claim he could have easily avoided or made it less specific about the number, but it is in line with making ‘Spare’ as impactful and salable as possible. His publisher Penguin Random House has reportedly paid him $20 million. While he has said he plans to help several charities from those earnings Penguin Random House is not in the business of charity. They have to milk every ounce of controversy from it to recoup its investment. The Taliban kills claim in a way serves that purpose even though it has some foreign policy ramifications for Britain. The claim has been described as “distasteful” by some Muslim leaders.

Britain had two fraught military engagements with Afghanistan before its 21st century involvement that saw Harry in action. The first and second Anglo-Afghan Wars of 1838–42 and 1878-80 respectively were also a result Britain’s meddlesome concerns over Russian influence in Afghanistan then as a colonial power based in India. The engagements were known as the “Great Game” in Central Asia, and both were replete with strategic and military blunders.

As a country, Afghanistan has institutional memories of those two wars followed by the 2001 invasion by the U.S. and allied NATO forces that first ousted the Taliban in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington. So when Harry writes specifically about his personal Taliban kills, in a way he also unintentionally scratches more than two centuries-old wounds and animus that Afghans remember.

There is no expectation that the Taliban will be able to do much, if anything at all, about Harry’s claim in terms of rallying the international community because its cadres were very much part of a war and anything that happened to them during actions such as described by Harry would be considered a legitimate response.

There is also no expectation that the ICC will take note of what Haqqani has tweeted but in a broad sense it has the potential to make Harry’s father, King Charles’ reign unpleasant.

‘Spare’ also contains rather juicy details about the tensions between Harry and his older brother William that led, according to the former, in the latter physically assaulting him. An excerpt quoted by the Guardian says of that altercation according to Harry: “Everything happened so fast. Really, really fast. He grabbed me by the collar of my shirt, ripping my necklace, and he knocked me to the floor … I fell on top of the dog’s bowl, which cracked under my back, the pieces of it cutting into me.”

The title of the memoir comes from the Royal British tradition of treating the second in line to the throne as a spare as opposed the first-born son as the heir.

Related posts