US Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparotti, the deputy commander of American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters the man died on Thursday morning of severe burns, according to Guardian.
The Afghan man, who served as an interpreter at the base, tried to run over a group of U.S. Marines who had assembled on the runway ramp to meet the secretary’s plane, reports The Washington Post.
He was driving a stolen pickup truck. Then he crashed the truck and appeared to set himself on fire, Scaparrotti said. The Afghan died while being treated for his wounds.
“His burns were extensive,” Scaparrotti said. “I personally don’t believe that it had any connection with the secretary’s arrival,” he added.
No one in Panetta’s party was hurt. The defence secretary was told about the incident after he got off the aircraft. “My personal opinion is yes, that he had an intent to harm, that he tried to hit the people on the ramp,” he said.
The incident occurred around the time of Panetta’s 11 a.m. arrival at Camp Bastion but was not disclosed by Pentagon officials until about 10 hours later, after some details of it had leaked to the British news media.
The incident happened just three days after 16 villagers, most of them women and children, were killed in a shooting rampage blamed on a U.S. soldier that underscored the instability in Afghanistan more than 10 years into an increasingly unpopular war, tells Reuters.
The unidentified Army staff sergeant involved in Sunday’s shooting was moved out of Afghanistan to Kuwait, Scaparrotti said.
Panetta told U.S. troops that the shooting must not deter them from their mission to secure Afghanistan ahead of a 2014 NATO deadline for the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.
At the same time, the Taliban threatened to retaliate for Sunday’s shooting by beheading U.S. personnel.
Panetta tried to tamp down worries about the course of the U.S. war effort after Sunday’s killings in Kandahar province, as well as the nationwide riots that followed an inadvertent burning of Korans last month by U.S. troops at a base north of Kabul.
“We have been tested time and time again over a decade of war,” Panetta told the U.S. and Afghan troops.
“That is the nature of war. . . . Each of these incidents is deeply troubling, and we have to learn lessons from each of these incidents.”
The protesters who took part in demonstrations on Tuesday in an east Afghan city called on President Hamid Karzai to reject a strategic pact that would allow U.S. advisers and possibly special forces to remain beyond 2014.
In Washington, President Obama said after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron that “our forces are making very real progress” in Afghanistan, and he reaffirmed a transition plan under which U.S. and NATO troops would withdraw by the end of 2014.
“In terms of pace, I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’re going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have,” Obama said. “We’re going to complete this mission, and we’re going to do it responsibly,” Obama added.