Taliban react to ‘chess piece’ comment on killings in Afghanistan

This photo taken on October 31, 2012 shows Britain’s Prince Harry doing his morning pre-flight checks on the British-controlled flight line at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where he serves as an Apache helicopter pilot/gunner with the 662 Sqd Army Air Corps.

John Stillwell | Afp | Getty Images

The early release of Prince Harry’s memoir Spare has sparked outrage from many different sources, from loyal supporters of the monarchy to TV pundits and ordinary Brits – and most recently the Taliban.

The much-anticipated book, written in the years since Harry and his wife Meghan Markle stepped down from their roles in the British royal family, accidentally went on sale in Spain just days before its official release date.

Among the many controversial revelations in the memoir is Harry’s revelation that he killed 25 Taliban fighters while serving in Afghanistan with the British Army.

According to extracts from the book quoted by Sky News, which obtained a copy, Harry said he did not see fighters as “people” but instead as “chess pieces” he was removing from the board.

“It was not something that filled me with satisfaction, but I was not ashamed,” the prince wrote. CNBC has not seen or been able to obtain a copy of the book.

Taliban leader Anas Haqqani hit back at the remarks on Twitter, writing: “Mr Hari! Those you killed were not chess pieces, they were people; they had families waiting for their return. Among the murderers of Afghans, not many have the decency to reveal their conscience and admit their war crimes.”

Haqqani added: “Our innocent people were chess pieces for your soldiers, military and political leaders. However, you were defeated in this “game” of white and black “square”.

The Taliban returned to full control of Afghanistan when the U.S. withdrew its last troops from the country in August 2021. Since then, they have reimposed a hyperconservative Islamic theocracy in the country, harshly punishing dissidents and barring women from higher education, among other violations of Human rights.

Prince Harry patrols the abandoned town of Garmizir on January 2, 2008 in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

John Stillwell | Anwar Hussain Collection/Rota | Wireimage | Getty Images

Harry served in the British Army for 10 years, attaining the rank of captain. He served two tours in Afghanistan, first in 2007-2008 as a forward air commander and later in 2012-2013 as an attack helicopter pilot.

The Taliban leader isn’t the only one angered by Harry’s comments; the news also prompted a backlash from ex-members of the British military, who largely live by a culture of not speaking out or bragging about the lives they’ve taken in combat.

“I love you #PrinceHarry but you should shut up!” Ben McBean, a former Royal Marine who served with Harry in Afghanistan, tweeted on Thursday. “Makes you wonder the people he hangs around with. If they were good people, someone would have told him to stop by now.”

One former senior army officer who led British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, Colonel Richard Kemp, described Harry’s comments as “incorrect” and potentially even dangerous.

Harry’s words were “probably misjudged for two reasons,” Kemp said in an interview with Sky News. “One is that his assumption that he killed 25 people would have incited those people who wish him ill.

Prince Harry sits in the front cockpit of an Apache helicopter on the British air traffic control line at Camp Bastion on October 31, 2012 in Afghanistan. Prince Harry served as an Apache helicopter pilot/gunner with 662 Sqd Army Air Corps from September 2012 for four months to January 2013.

John Stillwell | Wpa pool | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

The retired colonel added: “The other problem I found with his comments was that he characterized the British Army as basically training him and other soldiers to see their enemy as less than human, just like chess pieces on a board to be erased , which is not the case. That’s the opposite of the case.”

He warned that such comments could “encourage some people to try to attack British soldiers anywhere in the world”.

Kensington Palace, which represents Prince William, and Buckingham Palace, which represents King Charles III, have so far declined to comment on the book or any of its claims. CNBC has reached out to a representative for Prince Harry for comment.

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