Prince Harry has returned to the front lines of Afghanistan to begin a second scheduled military deployment, more than two weeks after he made headlines over a naked photo scandal.
The prince, who turns 28 on September 15, is an Apache helicopter pilot in the British army. He had served 10 weeks in Afghanistan in late 2007 and has said in the past that he hoped to return to the front lines. UK reports said in June 2011 that Harry's squadron was set to be sent back to Afghanistan in the summer of 2012.
Harry, known in the British military as Captain Wales, began his latest deployment in Afghanistan on Friday, September 7.
"Captain Wales is a serving soldier and a qualified Apache pilot having completed the Apache Conversion to Role course earlier this year," Deputy Commander of the JAG and Commanding Officer of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps in the UK, Lieutenant Colonel Tom de la Rue, said in a statement provided by the UK Ministry of Defense.
"As such, and after further flying experience, he has deployed along with the rest of the squadron as part of a long-planned and scheduled deployment to provide support to ISAF and Afghan forces operating in Helmand," the commander added.
Harry will serve as a gunner on an Apache attack helicopter, the Associated Press said, adding that he will start flying missions within 10 days. His combat tour will last four months and his duties will include co-piloting helicopters and firing their wing-mounted aerial rockets, Hellfire laser-guided missiles and 30mm machine gun, the news wire said.
The Ministry of Defense said Harry's squadron is Based out of Bastion, the largest coalition military base in Afghanistan, and "will provide surveillance, deterrence and, when required, close combat attack capabilities as well as escort duties for other aircraft."
The news comes after TMZ posted on August 21 photos that showed Harry naked, playing pool and hugging a girl, inside a Las Vegas hotel room. Harry, who had in the past been dubbed the "party prince," was at the time on a private vacation before scheduled military duty.
Palace officials said the pictures were authentic and issued a complaint with the UK Press Complaints Commission, saying the snapshots marked an invasion of Harry's privacy and should not have been published.
On September 3, Harry made his first public appearance since the photos were published. He attended a charity event - the WellChild awards ceremony in London. The prince is a patron of the UK-based charity WellChild, which supports sick children. He posed for photos with children battling cancer and gave a speech.
Harry is the younger brother of Prince William, who widely believed to become king, after their father Prince Charles. The brothers are the only children of the late Princess Diana and maintain a large fan base in their native UK.
Harry's first deployment in Afghanistan in 2007 was supposed to last three months and be kept under wraps but he had to end it early after the press reported about it, which had sparked fears that he could become targeted by pro-Taliban insurgents.
"As with all operational deployments, Captain Wales's deployment has been long-planned and the threat to him and others around him thoroughly assessed," the Ministry of Defense said about Harry's latest combat tour. "Any risk posed by Captain Wales's deployment, based on capability, opportunity and intent of the insurgency, has been, and will continue to be, assessed and has informed the decision to deploy him."
In 2010, a documentary called "The Taking of Prince Harry" aired on the UK's Channel 4. It depicted a fictionalized story of what could happen if Harry were taken prisoner while serving his military service in Afghanistan.
It was met with criticism by many news outlets, including the Telegraph, which said it could be used as a "major propaganda tool by the Taliban" and called the decision to air it "deeply unpatriotic."