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UK's Prince Harry returns to battle in Afghanistan

Two weeks after his nude romp in Las Vegas, Prince Harry has arrived in Afghanistan to provide air cover for military missions  in the volatile Helmand province. This is his second deployment in the region. NBC's Atia Abawi reports.

Updated at 8:26 a.m. ET: Britain's Prince Harry has returned to Afghanistan to begin a stint as an Apache helicopter pilot, the country's defense ministry said on Friday, marking a stark change-of-scene for the third-in-line to the throne who was recently photographed cavorting naked during a Las Vegas holiday.

The prince's second deployment in Afghanistan had been a closely guarded secret due to fears that he would become a target for Taliban insurgents. His last mission in the country -- when he served as a forward air controller -- was cut short in 2008 when his presence was leaked to the media.

Britain's ITV News reported:

"Having arrived in the war-torn country in the early hours today under the cover of darkness, Harry spent his first morning at Camp Bastion checking over the state-of-the-art Army aircraft he has likened to a 'robot'.

He looked relaxed, if slightly tired, and gave a thumbs-up after a long journey on a standard troop flight from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire."

Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, who is known as Captain Wales, was described as a "useful asset" by Captain Jock Gordon, the commander of the U.K.'s joint aviation group.

"Working together with his colleagues in the squadron he'll be in a difficult and demanding job and I ask that he be left to get on with his duties and allowed to focus on delivering support to the coalition troops on the ground," Gordon added.

More on this story from Britain's ITV News

Prince Harry is back on active service in Afghanistan - this time to fly an Apache attack helicopter during a four-month deployment. The Queen approved the decision - and his duties may see him involved in fierce action against the Taliban. ITV's Tim Ewart reports.

Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. Britain's Sky News reported that Prince Harry will stay in the country for four months.

'Range of emotions'
ITV News deputy political editor Chris Ship noted that the prince's new co-pilot gunner role could put him in the line of fireShip wrote:

"Last time he was calling in the air support. This time he will be the air support."

John Stillwell / PA

Prince Harry is shown an Apache helicopter by a member of his squadron at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan on Friday.

A spokesman for St James' Palace said that Prince Harry "approached the deployment with a range of emotions like any other soldier and feels both pride and anticipation as he deploys for a job he's trained for, for so long. Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honour to represent his country in Her Majesty's armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him."

Video: Prince Harry appears for first time since scandal 

The prince has charmed the crowds around the world despite, or perhaps because of, his well-publicized antics. 

More coverage of the UK's royal family from TODAY.com 

Pictures of him partying in a pool with Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and naked with a young woman in his hotel suite in Las Vegas that appeared in newspapers and websites around the world had the makings of a public relations disaster for the royal family.

One grainy snap showed Harry covering up his genitals with his hands while an apparently naked woman hides behind his back. The other pictured the naked 27-year-old clinging to a nude woman from behind.

Video: Nude Prince Harry photos leaked from Vegas party

But instead of prompting widespread disapproval, the public has largely reacted with a shrug or a chuckle.

"It is a testament to his sheer likeability that Britain will most likely greet his latest, literal revelations with a grin and an indulgent shrug," Britain's Times newspaper said in an editorial on August 23. "If he's still naked at 50, things may be different."

March 2: Deflecting praise during his first interview after returning home, Prince Harry offered a view of the service and heroism he saw on the front lines.

 ITV News is NBC's U.K. partner. Reuters contributed to this report. 

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