Panetta visits Afghanistan, security breach reported as plane lands

The Takeaway

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta greets troops passing through the Transit Center at Manas, near Bishkek March 14, 2012. (Photo by Scott Olson/Reuters.)

U.S Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was visiting Afghanistan on Friday — the first visit by a high-ranking American official since the assassination of several Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier.

But, as Panetta's plane was landing, an Afghan civilian employee drove a truck past the security cordon and physical barriers onto the runway ramp in an apparent attack.

No one was injured and the man was taken into custody. Defense officials insist Panetta was never in any danger.

"No explosives were found on the Afghan national or in the truck, the officials said, and the Pentagon was so far not considering the episode an attack on Mr. Panetta," The New York Times wrote.

Panetta made remarks to U.S. Marines in Afghanistan before heading to a remote outpost in Helmand province, where he'd been scheduled to make remarks to additional U.S. troops.

In a bit of an unusual move, especially in the wake of the suspected shooting spree by a U.S. soldier, Marines who were attending Panetta's speech were told to leave their service weapons outside of the building, the Times reported. Typically when Panetta addresses the troops, they're allowed to keep their weapons with them — as they are at virtually all times in Afghanistan. Afghan troops had already been told to leave their weapons behind, and a U.S. commander said the move was merely an exercise in uniformity — not someone who was concerned another U.S. combatant would launch a shooting spree.

As for the driver of the truck that attempted to intercept Panetta, according to the BBC, he was on fire when he exited the vehicle after it was disabled. The fire was extinguished by U.S. forces and he was taken to a hospital to be treated for burns.

George Little, a spokesman travelling with the Panetta, told the BBC the plane was diverted after it landed and before it was parked.

"A flash was seen from the vehicle, but military sources have told the BBC that they would be "wary" of describing it as an explosion as an investigation is under way," the BBC wrote.