The Envoy

Panetta safe after truck charges Helmand airfield while plane landing

The Envoy

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is safe after a hijacked truck rushed an airfield runway ramp as his plane was landing in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, Pentagon officials and journalists traveling with him report.

An Afghan civilian who worked on the base "stole a military pickup truck, rammed through a fence, and crashed into a ditch by a runway" around the time Panetta's plane was preparing to land, the Washington Post reported. Panetta's plane was diverted to another runway.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan "is aware of a stolen vehicle incident today at Camp Bastion, which resulted in the injury of one coalition service member," the International Security Assistance Force command (ISAF) said in a statement sent to Yahoo News Wednesday. "The alleged perpetrator was apprehended by base security personnel. We are currently investigating to determine more facts."

"At no point was the Secretary or anyone on the aircraft in any danger from this incident," it said.

Pentagon officials said it was not clear that Panetta's plane was specifically targeted by the hijacker, who was identified as an Afghan civilian who worked on the British base, Camp Bastion, as a translator. He later died of his wounds overnight, the Pentagon said. A NATO soldier was wounded by the truck before it crashed.

Panetta was flying into the British air base in Helmand province at about 11am local time when the incident occurred. Reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan were reportedly not informed of the incident until some 10 hours later, after Panetta had landed in Kabul.

Panetta arrived on an unannounced trip in Afghanistan Wednesday to try to defuse tensions in the wake of the shooting rampage Sunday, allegedly by a U.S. staff sergeant, that killed 16 Afghan men, women and children.

President Obama has vowed that whomever is found responsible for the attacks will be punished.

But the chief suspect in the case, a 38 year old U.S. staff sergeant, was flown out of Afghanistan to Kuwait, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

This post was updated with additional details from the Pentagon early Thursday.

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