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Man crashes car at Afghanistan airfield as Panetta arrives
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Man crashes car at Afghanistan airfield as Panetta arrives

Secretary of Defense visits country days after civilian killings

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta
    Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Department of DefenseU.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, days after a shooting rampage blamed on an American soldier that left 16 civilians dead, including nine children.

The Associated Press reported that a vehicle crashed on the British airfield where Panetta landed. According to the International Security Assistance Force, the car was stolen from Camp Bastion. The Washington Post said the crash happened as Panetta's plane landed and was apparently an attempted attack on the plane.

In a statement, the ISAF said, "This incident took place this afternoon around the same time U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was arriving in Afghanistan. At no point was the Secretary or anyone on the aircraft in any danger from this incident," according to NPR.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said the driver of the car, who was an Afghan, drove the vehicle at high speeds onto the airfield and crashed it into a ditch.

According to officials, the driver caught fire "by means that remain unclear, but his vehicle did not explode, and he was apprehended by security forces," said The Post. A coalition member was injured in the attack.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the driver was treated for considerable burns. He added, "We don’t know for sure if the stolen vehicle incident was in any way connected to the secretary’s arrival or visit."

According to the LA Times, Panetta's visit was long-planned but had "taken on the feel of a rescue mission."

His presence was meant as reassurance to Afghan officials and foreign troops alike that the shooting in Kandahar province would not change the military mission there.

"I do not believe that there is any reason to make any changes in the strategy," Panetta told reporters with him before arriving at a U.S. air base in Helmand Province.

Panetta also told reporters Tuesday that "war is hell" and that terrible events happen in every conflict, the VOA reported.

He also said the killings probably will not be the last, although he stressed that the military would strive to prevent a similar incident.

CNN cited President Barack Obama as saying in Washington on Tuesday that while American officials were "heartbroken" by the deaths, they had no plans to change course in the decade-old war in Afghanistan.

Panetta is the first high-ranking U.S. official to visit Afghanistan since the killing spree, allegedly by a U.S. soldier who is now in custody.

His first stop was at Camp Bastion and the adjoining base Camp Leatherneck, to meet with top U.S. and British military leaders, CNN wrote.

He would then travel to a nearby forward operating base to meet more coalition troops before flying on to Kabul.

He was not scheduled to visit to the area where the predawn killings took place — two villages in rural Kandahar province.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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