The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has refused to provide specifics on Prince Harry’s combat fatalities, citing excessive costs. Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) had submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request seeking information related to Prince Harry’s book revelation about his involvement in deaths during combat operations in Afghanistan.
AOAV’s request was made seeking post-combat briefings or summaries of the reported killings of claimed Taliban fighters during his time as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. In his memoir, the Duke of Sussex describes killing 25 Taliban in six missions as “chess pieces taken off the board”.
The requested information included the date, number of militants killed, location of the killings, and any other pertinent details available in the public domain.
The MoD cited Section 12(Cost Limit) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as the grounds for refusing AOAV’s request. Section 12 allows public authorities to decline requests for information if the cost of processing them would exceed the appropriate limit, which is set at £600 for central government. This limit is based on the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days to determine the existence of the requested information, locate it, retrieve it, and extract it.
In adherence to Section 16 of the Act, the MoD said that, due to the extensive volume of material held by the MoD, which may contain information relevant to AOAV’s query, they are unable to propose a method for refining the request that would fall within the cost limit. Furthermore, the MoD cautioned that any information falling within the scope of AOAV’s request is likely to be withheld under several exemptions, including Section 24 (National Security), Section 26 (Defence), Section 38 (Health and Safety), and Section 40 (Personal Information).
In previous investigations, AOAV has shown that British forces have been linked to the deaths of 86 children and more than 200 adult civilians during the Afghanistan conflict, with compensation of just £2,380 paid on average for each life lost. AOAV obtained its data from official MOD compensation logs, obtained by a series of freedom of information requests. According to the data, the youngest recorded civilian victim was three years old.
Prince Harry stirred controversy with the publication early in 2023 of his memoir, “Spare,” wherein he describes his military service in Afghanistan, including the killing of 25 Taliban fighters.
Prince Harry wrote that “Every kill was on video. The Apache saw all. The camera in its nose recorded all. So, after every mission, there would be a careful review of that video.”
He claimed that : “I was part of six missions that ended in the taking of human life, and they were all deemed justified… I deemed them the same.”
He accepted that there was a high risk of civilian harm, however.
“Afghanistan was a war of mistakes, a war of enormous collateral damage—thousands of innocents killed and maimed, and that always haunted us,” he wrote. “So my goal from the day I arrived was never to go to bed doubting that I’d done the right thing, that my targets had been correct, that I was firing on Taliban and only Taliban, no civilians nearby. I wanted to return to Britain with all my limbs, but more, I wanted to go home with my conscience intact.”
Harry went further. “I could always say precisely how many enemy combatants I’d killed. And I felt it vital never to shy away from that number. Among the many things I learned in the Army, accountability was near the top of the list. So, my number: Twenty-five. ”
In the end, Harry characterised these kills not as individual lives taken, but as “chess pieces taken off the board,” attributing his perspective to his military training.
These specific comments sparked debate and criticism, notably comments in the BBC from retired commanding officer Colonel Tim Collins, who criticised Harry for “turning against” both his biological and military families.
Taliban leader Anas Haqqani also responded, tweeting a reminder that those killed were humans, not chess pieces.
The Ministry of Defence and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused at the time to comment on the controversy.
As an organisation committed to transparency, accountability, and the prevention of armed violence, AOAV believes that shedding light on the implications of armed conflicts is crucial for fostering understanding and promoting peace.
When explosive weapons are used in towns and cities, our data has shown – over a decade and more – that 90% of those killed or injured will be civilians. It is therefore a very real possibility that Prince Harry, despite his claims to the contrary, may have killed a civilian, however unwittingly. The only way to be sure is for there to be an impartial investigation into these kills. The MOD’s refusal hampers such an ambition.
Dr Iain Overton of AOAV said of the rejection: “AOAV is dedicated to the pursuit of transparency and accountability in all matters concerning armed violence. Prince Harry’s revelations in his memoir offer an insight into the harsh realities of conflict, details of which we believe should be brought further to light. Given that the air-power has a very high likelihood of claiming civilian lives, we ask the question: how can we be assured all 25 deaths were combatants?”
AOAV urges the MoD to reconsider their decision, recognising the importance of transparency and the public interest surrounding this matter.
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