Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vehicle crashes on Afghan runway; U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta safe

KABUL, Afghanistan—An Afghan driver somehow caught fire Wednesday as he crashed a stolen truck as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's plane was landing nearby, officials said.

No one in Panetta's party was hurt, said a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby.

In the bizarre incident, the pickup truck raced at high speed and crashed into a ditch near the ramp where Panetta's plane was going to stop at a British airfield in southern Afghanistan.

Suddenly the driver was enveloped in flames, but the truck did not explode, said Col. Gary Kolb, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, countering earlier reports. The driver was treated for burns.

It was unclear what the driver had in mind, or even if it was a failed attack. "It's too early to say right now. It may have been a coincidence," Kolb said. There were no explosives found either in the vehicle or on the driver, Kolb said.

He said a coalition service member saw the Afghan stealing the truck and tried to stop him, but the man hit the service member with the truck as he drove off. The service member was injured. Kolb did not say how seriously.

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