Afghan who crashed truck where Panetta landed dies

AP News
Posted: Mar 15, 2012 7:31 AM
Afghan who crashed truck where Panetta landed dies

An Afghan interpreter who the U.S. suspects of trying to attack American troops died Thursday, a day after he crashed a truck while speeding toward Marines waiting on an airfield for U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to land.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparotti, the deputy commander of American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters traveling with Panetta in Kabul that the driver was an interpreter working for the foreign forces.

The man apparently had a container of fuel in the stolen truck, which ignited during the crash Wednesday at the British airfield in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

"There was a puff of smoke, and he came out engulfed in flames," Scaparotti said.

A military dog at the airfield chased the speeding truck and is believed to have suffered minor burns when he pulled the driver out of the vehicle, according to a U.S. defense official.

Scaparotti said the truck was headed toward a group of U.S. Marines assembled on the tarmac for Panetta's arrival when it crashed.

"My personal opinion, yes, he had an intent to do harm" to the Marines, Scaparotti said.

No one in Panetta's party was hurt.

Panetta told reporters that he did not believe he was the target. The defense secretary said he was told before landing that the aircraft was being diverted to another landing site, but that he was not aware of the crash until later.

Authorities were not able to talk to or get any information from the driver before he died.

A U.S. military official said a British soldier was injured when he tried to stop the driver from stealing the truck on the base. The Afghan man hit the British soldier with the truck as he was driving away.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident is still being investigated.


Associated Press Lolita C. Baldor in Kabul contributed to this report.