By Jeremy Herb
An Afghan man stole a vehicle and drove it onto a runway in Afghanistan at the base where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed on Wednesday, though Panetta was never in danger, Pentagon officials said.
The Afghan man sped onto the air ramp at the Camp Bastion Airfield, and a NATO soldier was injured in the incident, Pentagon press secretary George Little said.
Little said it’s unclear at this point why the man stole the car, or whether he was targeting Panetta.
“We don’t believe the secretary or the delegation was ever in any danger,” said Little, who added that Panetta’s visit to Afghanistan continued as scheduled.
Little said Panetta’s plane took the precaution of moving to a different part of the airfield after arriving, though he did not know whether the Afghan man drove onto the runway before or after Panetta’s plane had landed.
Panetta made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday. It was planned before a U.S. soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians Sunday in an incident that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said could not be forgiven.
Panetta spoke to Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, where he said that recent incidents there have been "deeply troubling," but that they would not change the mission.
Before Panetta spoke, Marines were asked to remove their weapons from the tent in an unusual move, The Associated Press reported. "Something has come to light," Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall told the troops.
A defense official told the AP that the request was made out of respect for soldiers from other countries, like the Afghans, who are never allowed to bring weapons into events.