An Afghan man who Western officials say sparked a security scare in the midst of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s high profile visit to Afghanistan Wednesday has died of wounds sustained in the incident, defense officials said Thursday. The attacker, described as a civilian translator for coalition forces, had allegedly stolen a truck from a British soldier – who sustained a broken pelvis during the theft — and raced it onto the runway where Panetta had just landed at Camp Bastion, according to several officials. As Panetta sat in a military transport plane, the man then crashed the truck into a ditch and emerged from the wreck engulfed in flames.
The man still attempted to attack soldiers, who responded to the scene, by jumping on the side of one of their vehicles while on fire. The soldiers were eventually able to wrestle the man to the ground and put out the flames — but not before the man suffered serious burns, the officials said. He was reportedly wearing the top half of a stolen U.S. Marine’s flame-retardant uniform and therefore suffered the most severe burns on the lower half of his body. Later, investigators found a gasoline container in the truck.
The incident happened when a plane carrying Mr Panetta on a surprise visit to Afghanistan Wednesday was targeted by as it touched down what observers believe to have been a suicide attack at Camp Bastion. A vehicle got on to the runway at the sprawling joint British and US base in Helmand province and burst into flames as Mr Panetta’s plane was about to land at around 0800 GMT. Mr Panetta’s plane landed on a different runway. Sources at the scene said that it was a suicide attack. The incident is likely to prompt some urgent security questions as Mr Panetta’s visit was unannounced and was supposed to be shrouded in secrecy until his plane touched down. The camp went into immediate lockdown and an investigation was launched.
An ISAF spokesperson said in a statement: “We are aware of an incident today at Camp Bastion where a vehicle caught on fire. The driver of the vehicle is being medically treated. We are currently investigating to determine more facts of this incident. At no point was anyone on the aircraft at danger from this incident.”