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Prince William makes secret Afghan trip

  • Story Highlights
  • William piloted C-17 transport on part of Sunday's flight, spokesman says
  • British prince was part of air crew that made 30-hour trip from England
  • He received his pilot's wings from the Royal Air Force earlier this month
  • William was briefed on military operations in Afghanistan, royal residence says
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's Prince William, who has faced criticism for misusing military helicopters, made a surprise visit to Afghanistan this week serving as part of an air crew that made the 30-hour trip from England.

A royal spokesman said William, who caused an uproar when he used a Royal Air Force helicopter to drop in at his girlfriend's house this month, piloted a military C-17 transport aircraft during part of his Sunday flight to Kandahar.

The 25-year-old, second in line to the throne, spent about three hours on the ground and was briefed on British military operations in Afghanistan, the spokesman said.

He then traveled to Ubeid Air Base in Qatar, where he spent two hours before flying back to England.

News of the Prince's visit was delayed as it was classified as confidential, the UK Press Association reported Tuesday.

However, William's trip has been criticized by some who see it as a public relations exercise to reduce the damage caused to the popular Prince's image by his earlier flying indiscretions.

"There is an element of risk but there would be no way security officials would allow it to happen... It would be pretty well sterile while he was there," former royal protection officer Ken Wharfe told the Press Association.

"I'm slightly skeptical about this. I think the cynics amongst us will say it's an attempt to cover up the Chinook jollies."

Publicist Max Clifford agreed, telling the BBC the trip would "get them some good headlines."

William's trip came nearly two months after his younger brother, Harry, ended a three-month army tour in Afghanistan.

Prince Harry was forced to cut his tour short by several weeks after a U.S. Web site published news that he was serving there with Britain's Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup.

The British and international media had observed a blackout on the news for security reasons.

William, a second lieutenant in the British army, received his pilot's wings from the RAF earlier this month.

His four-month attachment with the RAF was designed to give the presumed future king knowledge about Britain's branches of the military.

However, one of his training flights led to controversy when tabloid the News of the World reported on April 20 that he landed a Chinook helicopter -- normally used for transporting troops -- in a field next to the home of his girlfriend Kate Middleton.

It also emerged that William used the expensive helicopter -- which is said to cost $30,000 an hour to run -- to twice fly over the home of his father Prince Charles and to fly to a wedding party. He also flew over the Norfolk residence of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth and went to the Isle of Wight for the stag weekend of his cousin Peter Phillips, The Telegraph reported.

Prince William is expected to complete an attachment with the Royal Navy later this year. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Prince William of WalesKandaharAfghanistanUnited Kingdom

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