Former British military leaders and the Afghan government criticized an apparent claim from Prince Harry’s upcoming memoir that he killed 25 Taliban fighters during his tours as a soldier in Afghanistan.
The contentious details from his unreleased book, “Spare,” were leaked on Friday by British news outlets, which had obtained copies of the book.
Though other insights into life as a member of Britain’s notoriously private royal family have dominated British headlines this week, it was a passage recounting Prince Harry’s time in Afghanistan that veered into diplomatic drama.
In it, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, who is estranged from his family and living in California, describes the people he says he killed as “chess pieces taken off the board, bad guys eliminated before they kill good guys,” according to a translation by the BBC, which obtained a copy of the book after it was mistakenly released early in Spain. The statistic, he wrote, did not fill him with pride, nor did it “make me ashamed.”
“You can’t kill people if you see them as people,” he wrote. “They trained me to ‘other’ them, and they trained me well.”
But the apparent decision by Prince Harry to go into such detail about his service was met with disapproval from former British military officers, who said it raised security concerns for him and other troops who had served in Afghanistan. They also described the account as an inaccurate characterization of the British Army’s training.
The comments were also met with anger by leading figures in the Afghan government, which the Taliban insurgency took over in August 2021.
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“The ones you killed were not chess pieces, they were humans; they had families who were waiting for their return,” Anas Haqqani, a leader in the Taliban administration, wrote on Twitter on Friday. “The truth is what you’ve said; Our innocent people were chess pieces to your soldiers, military and political leaders.”
“It inflames old feelings of revenge that might have been forgotten about,” Col. Richard Kemp, a retired officer in the British Army who served in Afghanistan, told the BBC, refuting Harry’s characterization of insurgents being seen as chess pieces to be knocked over. “That’s not the case at all, and it’s not the way that the British Army trains people.”
Prince Harry, Colonel Kemp said, had gained a positive reputation for his courage serving voluntarily in Afghanistan and his championing of wounded soldiers. The prince rose to the rank of captain in the British Army after 10 years of service, which included a tour of Afghanistan beginning in 2007 as an air controller and another beginning in 2012 as an Apache helicopter pilot. He established the Invictus Games in 2014, an international Paralympics-style event for members of the armed forces living with chronic illnesses and injuries. “This, to an extent, tarnished that reputation,” Colonel Kemp said.
Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to the United States and national security adviser, said in a Sky News interview on Friday that he would have “advised against the kind of detail” that Prince Harry included in his memoir.
The information should have been kept private, Ben McBean, a veteran of the Royal Marines, told the BBC. Mr. McBean, who became friendly with Prince Harry during his time in the army, said, “If the Taliban can’t get access to Harry, they might think about who they can target in the U.K. There’s no positive to it coming out.”
When asked to respond to Harry’s claims, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the ministry did not comment on operational details for security reasons.
Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace have declined to comment on the memoir.
Archewell, a charitable foundation founded by Prince Harry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Harry’s supporters have lauded him for his honesty in describing his experiences growing up in the royal family.
The memoir also includes an accusation, first reported by The Guardian, that Prince William physically assaulted Harry in an angry argument during which he called Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, “abrasive” and “rude.” In trailers for tell-all broadcast interviews timed to coincide with the book’s publication, Prince Harry speaks of seeing a “red mist” in his brother in that moment: “He wanted me to hit him back.”
Other details in the memoir include the prince’s experiences with recreational drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and psychedelics to cope with the pressures of royal life, and his first learning about the death of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, last year from the British news media rather than from other family members. He also writes about the events leading up to the rift with his family.
But with the coronation of King Charles III set for this May, it remains unclear whether a reconciliation will be at all possible. According to reports about the memoir by the British news media, the king has begged Prince Harry and Prince William to reconcile and “not make his final years a misery.”
“There’s a lot that can happen between now and then,” Harry says in an upcoming interview on ITV News. “But the door is always open. The ball is in their court.”
Safiullah Padshah and Mark Landler contributed reporting.