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Driver Catches Fire in Afghan Incident Near Panetta Plane

The Afghan driver of a stolen pickup truck burst into flames near the runway of a British base in Afghanistan at about the time U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s plane arrived today, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little.

There is no indication that the incident at Camp Bastion was an intended attack on Panetta, Little told reporters traveling with Panetta in Kabul. “At no time was the secretary or the secretary’s delegation in any danger whatsoever,” Little said.

As security personnel arrived at the scene, they found the driver ablaze, and no explosives were found on him or in the vehicle, Little said.

“There’s no evidence right now that the driver had any idea who was on that aircraft,” John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, said in an interview at the Pentagon, according to a pool report.

The incident coincides with a string of attacks pitting Afghans and Americans against each other and casting doubt on the Obama administration’s claims of progress in the war and plans to extend their joint efforts after the bulk of foreign troops exit at the end of 2014.

One Afghan coalition service member was hit by the vehicle and injured when it was being stolen, Kirby said. The driver is being treated for “considerable” burn wounds, according to Little.

The alleged perpetrator of the “stolen vehicle event” was apprehended by base security personnel, according to a statement from the International Security Assistance Force.

Little said the matter is under investigation. Initial reports from the U.K.’s Daily Mail and Sky News described the event as a suspected car bomb attack.

“It’s my understanding that the car itself never caught on fire and did not explode,” Little said.

The vehicle was a small pickup truck and was moving at high speed, according to Kirby. The truck ended up on a ramp used to access the runway, Little said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Kabul at vgienger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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