A vehicle drove onto the runway at Camp Bastion, the main British military base in Afghanistan, then burst into flames at roughly the same time the US Defense Secretary arrived this morning.
A pickup truck drove at high speed onto the ramp where Leon Panetta’s plane was intended to stop. The vehicle used for what is believed to be an attempted attack was apparently stolen by a civilian employee at Camp Bastion, the Associated Press reports.
The driver, who has survived the incident but suffered burns as his clothes caught flame, was immediately arrested. He is receiving medical treatment. The driver’s identity is still unknown.
Some reports suggest the vehicle’s driver has detonated the blast. According to others, the vehicle ignited after it crashed into a ditch, and there was no explosion, but only a flash.
One British service member was reportedly injured prior to the explosion as he tried to stop the perpetrator from stealing the truck.
No explosives were found in the vehicle or on the driver as he was arrested, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby stated.
Though it is not yet clear whether the explosion was a coincidence, or if Panetta was the target of a suicide attack, the base was put on lockdown after the incident. “It’s too early to say right now,” Kirby said. ”It may have been a coincidence.”
In the wake of the incident, flights and movements around Camp Bastion were restricted while military police patrolled the roads and investigated the case.
“Procedures were put in place to account for the whereabouts of all military and civilian personnel and, to achieve this, movement within Camp Bastion was restricted,” a spokeswoman for the base said, as quoted by the Daily Mail.
Kirby confirmed that neither Panetta nor anyone in his party was injured. A spokesman for the NATO-led Isaf force also said that “at no point was anyone on board Panetta’s plane at risk.”
Panetta has proceeded with his plans to meet with Afghan government officials in Kabul.
Panetta’s visit was aimed at defusing the tension that has plagued NATO’s mission in Afghanistan in recent weeks, following a series of what the Secretary of Defense called “troubling incidents”.
An accidental burning of several copies of the Koran in a US base provoked a spate of riots from offended Muslims.
And over the weekend, a mentally unstable US soldier killed 16 civilian villagers at random in the volatile province of Kandahar.
“We have to learn the lessons from each incident so we do everything possible they don’t happen again,” Panetta said to an audience of US troops upon his arrival in Afghanistan, adding that the “tragic” incidents “do not define the relationship between the coalition forces and the Afghan people.”