Prince Harry: Opening up about killing Taliban fighters in memoir Spare aims to 'reduce veteran suicides'
Prince Harry has opened up about his reasons for revealing how many Taliban fighters he killed during his service in Afghanistan, saying it was part of a healing process and that he hoped talking about it would help others, including reducing veteran suicides.
The Duke of Sussex has discussed in a series of interviews why he wrote about "the taking of human lives" while serving as an Apache helicopter pilot with the British Army in his book Spare, released this week.
He denied boasting about killing 25 Taliban while serving as a soldier when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night in the US, telling the American talk show host that it had been "hurtful and challenging" watching the reactions following the book's publication.
Prince Harry has faced strong criticism from many quarters, including senior figures in the British Armed Forces, since he claimed in his memoir Spare to have killed 25 insurgents as an Apache helicopter pilot.
His appearance on the show followed an earlier interview with People magazine in which he said he felt soldiers often discussed "parts of our service that still haunt us" and said that he is not sure if soldiers "ever fully reconcile the painful elements of being at war".
He told the magazine, in an interview published online, that he hopes that speaking about his own experiences of military service in Afghanistan, including taking lives, would help others, as he talked openly about his own healing journey.
What did Prince Harry write in his memoir, Spare?
In the book, Prince Harry writes about how every kill by his Apache squadron had been captured on video.
He writes: "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 goes on to write of his thoughts on his squadron commander and how he would scrutinise the video, looking for any errors the squadron had made.
Then, describing his kill count and continuing the narrative about his squadron commander, the duke writes: "Despite his best efforts, he never found anything irregular in any of our kills.
"I was part of six missions that ended in the taking of human life, and they were all deemed justified by the man who wanted to crucify us. I deemed them the same.
"What made the squadron commander's attitude so execrable was this: He was exploiting a real and legitimate fear. A fear we all shared. Afghanistan was a war of mistakes, a war of enormous collateral damage – thousands of innocents killed and maimed, and that always haunted us.
"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 Taliban only, no civilians nearby.
"I wanted to return to Britain with all my limbs, but more, I wanted to go home with my conscience intact. Which meant being aware of what I was doing, and why I was doing it, at all times.
"Most soldiers can't tell you precisely how much death is on their ledger. In battle conditions, there's often a great deal of indiscriminate firing. But in the age of Apaches and laptops, everything I did in the course of two combat tours was recorded, time-stamped. 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. It wasn't a number that gave me any satisfaction. But neither was it a number that made me feel ashamed. Naturally, I'd have preferred not to have that number on my military CV, on my mind, but by the same token, I'd have preferred to live in a world in which there was no Taliban, a world without war."
The duke adds: "While in the heat and fog of combat, I didn't think of those 25 as people. You can't kill people if you think of them as people. You can't really harm people if you think of them as people. They were chess pieces removed from the board, Bads taken away before they could kill Goods. I'd been trained to "other-ize" them, trained well. On some level, I recognized this learned detachment as problematic. But I also saw it as an unavoidable part of soldiering."
He said in the book that was "another reality" that couldn't be changed.
The duke then says he was "not some kind of automaton", describing how he "never forgot" watching the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, as he watched the events unfold in the TV room at Eton.
He adds that all those responsible "along with their sympathisers and enablers, their allies and successors, were not just our enemies, but enemies of humanity".
Fighting them, he says, "meant avenging one of the most heinous crimes in world history" and stopping it from happening again.
In later paragraphs, Prince Harry describes feeling a "mix of complicated emotions about saying goodbye to Afghanistan" before describing flying with his squadron to Cyprus "for what the Army call 'decompression'" and where he touches on the mental health of soldiers returning from Afghanistan.
He writes that he hadn't had any "mandated decompression" after his last tour so was "excited".
He then goes on to tell how the soldiers were taken to a comedy show, saying that whoever organised it had had good intentions, adding: "And, to be fair, some of us did laugh. But most didn't.
"We were struggling. We had memories to process, mental wounds to heal, existential questions to sort. (We'd been told that a padre was available if we needed to talk, but I remember no-one going near him). So we were just sat in the comedy show in the same way we'd sat in the VHR tent. In a state of suspended animation. Waiting."
The Late Show interview
The duke used the prime-time slot on The Late Show to criticise the British press for leaks of his book, saying: "They intentionally chose to strip away all the context and take out individual segments of my life, my story and every experience I've had, and turned it into a salacious headline."
The 38-year-old told Colbert: "Without a doubt, the most dangerous lie that they have told, is that I somehow boasted about the number of people that I killed in Afghanistan."
He noted the context in which the reference appeared in the book, before saying: "I should say, if I heard anyone boasting about that kind of thing, I would be angry. But it's a lie.
"My words are not dangerous, but the spin of my words are very dangerous."
Harry said he was driven to discuss his kills by the goal of reducing veteran suicides.
"I made a choice to share it because having spent nearly two decades working with veterans all around the world, I think the most important thing is to be honest and to give space to others to be able to share their experiences without any shame," he told Colbert.
"And my whole goal, my attempt with sharing that detail, is to reduce the number of suicides."
The duke's comments follow criticism from senior figures in the military, including retired British Army Colonel Tim Collins, famous for his inspirational speech on the eve of battle in Iraq, who had earlier said Prince Harry had "turned against the other family, the military", while Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, called Prince Harry "very stupid" for giving details of his kill count.
Admiral Lord West also told the Sunday Mirror that the Invictus Games – which are due to be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in September this year – will now have "serious security issues" because of their direct connection to the duke following his comments.
However, Prince Harry, speaking of his reasons for telling the world in his book that he opened fire and killed Taliban insurgents as an Apache helicopter gunner, told People magazine: "There's truly no right or wrong way to try and navigate these feelings, but I know from my own healing journey that silence has been the least effective remedy.
"Expressing and detailing my experience is how I chose to deal with it, in the hopes it would help others."
He said dealing with the painful elements of war is something "each soldier has to confront", adding that in almost two decades of working alongside personnel and veterans, he had heard many stories shared and shared his own as part of a healing journey.
He added that members of the Armed Forces also talked about the parts of military service that "heal us", and talked about the lives they had saved.
In the book, Harry wrote about flying six missions during his second tour of duty on the frontline and that, in the heat of combat, he did not think of the 25 lives taken as "people" but instead as "chess pieces" that had been taken off the board.
The book comes within weeks of Harry and Meghan's controversial Netflix documentary – in which he revealed that spending 10 years in the British Army helped "burst" the bubble he grew up in.