Taliban commanders have branded Prince Harry a naive “coward” for his comments comparing the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan with computer games.
Two senior figures told The Daily Telegraph that the unguarded description was an insult to the men who had fought and died alongside Captain Wales.
They were angered by the way Prince Harry described his role as co-pilot of an Apache helicopter, in charge of its weapons systems, firing Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, rockets and a 30-millimetre gun.
“It’s a joy for me because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful,” he said in an interview timed to coincide with his departure after a 20-week tour.
The unguarded comments could prove a headache for President Hamid Karzai, who has staked his reputation on working closely with Nato-led forces and wants the US to station troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014.
It also hands insurgents a propaganda opportunity as they continue to try to turn the local population against foreign fighters in a war that is becoming as much about PR salvoes as it is about rockets and bullets.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, said Prince Harry was a “coward” for speaking only after he was out of harm’s way.
“This statement is not even worth condemning. It is worse than that,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“To describe the war in Afghanistan as a game demeans anyone – especially a prince, who is supposed to be made of better things.”
He added that it exposed the calibre of forces that Nato was able deploy.
“It shows the lack of understanding, of knowledge,” he said. “It shows they are unfamiliar with the situation and shows why they are losing.”
A commander in Helmand, where Prince Harry was based, said soldiers from dozens of countries were fighting in Afghanistan. To describe their efforts – and deaths – as part of a game was to show a lack of respect, he said.