A truck passed through a security barrier at Camp Bastion, the principal British military base in Afghanistan, just as U.S. defense chief Leon Panetta’s airplane was about to land at the facility.
According to reports, the vehicle was travelling at high speed and made it far as the runway, injuring a NATO soldier.
“The vehicle ended up crashing into a ditch,” said Pentagon spokesman, Captain John Kirby, in a statement, then later caught on fire.
The driver of the truck, an Afghan civilian who worked at the base, has been arrested, but transported to a hospital for treatment of his injuries.
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters: For reasons that are totally unknown to us at this time, our personnel discovered that [the driver] was ablaze. He ran, he jumped on to a truck, base personnel put the fire out and he was immediately treated for burn injuries.
Little added: We cannot confirm in any way, shape or form at this time that this stolen vehicle was in any way tied to the secretary’s arrival or his visit.”
Paneta and his party were able to safely land at the camp.
A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that neither Panetta nor anyone aboard his aircraft was endangered by the errant vehicle on the ground.
The New York Times reported that the Pentagon does not think the truck episode was necessarily intended as a direct attack on Panetta.
BBC reported that no explosive devices or bombs have been found on the truck.
Bastion is reportedly one of the busiest airports in the world.
Panetta made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan in order to calm NATO troops who have been threatened in retaliation for the murder of 16 civilians by a U.S. soldier last weekend and to assure Afghan officials that the culprit, who is under arrest, will be severely punished. The Secretary also told troops in Helmand that the latest incidents would not alter the U.S. government’s pledge to keep American troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014.
“War is hell,” he said. “These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place, they’ve taken place in any war, they’re terrible events, and this is not the first of those events, and it probably will not be the last, But we cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy.”