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Wed March 14, 2012
Vehicle Explodes On Airfield In Afghanistan, Where Panetta Landed
Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 2:31 pm
The Pentagon says an Afghan drove a stolen truck onto the airfield of a British base in southern Afghanistan at high speeds until it crashed into a ditch and exploded into flames.
The incident at Camp Bastion happened around the same time that U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta landed in the country.
"At no point was the Secretary or anyone on the aircraft in any danger from this incident," the International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
ISAF said one person was in custody and the Pentagon told the AP that an initial search found no explosive devices in the vehicle.
We'll have more on this story as it develops.
Update at 1:23 p.m. ET. No Firm Evidence It Was An Attack On Panetta:
NPR's Larry Abramson reports from Kabul that while the timing is suspicious, "there is no firm evidence" that this was an attack on Secretary Panetta.
"It happened just at the time the secretary was landing. And it was known to members on the base that the secretary of defense was coming to visit them," Larry said.
Larry adds that Panetta's plane was diverted away from the incident when he landed.
Update at 12:52 p.m. ET. A Tense Visit:
As we reported earlier, Panetta visit to Afghanistan comes at a tense moment, just days after a U.S. soldier allegedly went on a shooting spree, killing 16 Afghan civilians.
Earlier, before news of the explosion was known, The New York Times reported on the tense situation in the country:
"In a sign of the nervousness surrounding Mr. Panetta's trip, the Marines and other troops who were waiting in a tent for the defense secretary to speak were abruptly asked by their commander to get up, place their weapons — M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9-mm pistols — outside the tent and then return unarmed. The commander, Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, told reporters he was acting on orders from superiors.
"'All I know is, I was told to get the weapons out,' he said. Asked why, he replied, 'Somebody got itchy, that's all I've got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust.'
"Normally, American forces in Afghanistan keep their weapons with them when the defense secretary visits and speaks to them. The Afghans in the tent waiting for Mr. Panetta were not armed to begin with, as is typical."
Update at 12:46 p.m. ET. Afghan Drove Stolen Vehicle:
The AP reports that it was an Afghan driving the stolen vehicle. Pentagon Spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said the suspect drove the pickup truck onto the airfield at high speeds and eventually crashed into a ditch where it exploded into flames.
"Initial reports said no explosive devices were found in the vehicle or in a search of the driver," the AP reports, adding that the driver is "being treated for burn injuries."