An Afghan civilian who crashed a stolen pickup truck alongside a runway near Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's plane and then emerged from the vehicle in flames died early on Thursday of severe burns, the No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan said.
The commander, Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, told reporters that the Afghan died under medical care. The man had created an alarming start to an already tense visit to Afghanistan by Mr. Panetta when he drove the truck at high speed onto a ramp alongside a runway at a British military airfield and careered into a ditch as Mr. Panetta's plane was landing, informs New York Times.
The shootings, and Wednesday's airfield incident, underscored the instability in Afghanistan more than 10 years into an increasingly unpopular war. They are the latest in a series of incidents that have added to anger among Afghans over the prolonged foreign presence.
The Afghan, a contractor who worked as a translator, had apparently tried to ram the truck into a group of U.S. Marines standing on a runway ramp at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, U.S. Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti said. Scaparrotti, second in command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters travelling with Panetta he doubted the man had any idea Panetta was arriving at the heavily guarded base. Panetta and his delegation were unharmed, according to Reuters.
Afghanistan is Obama's war - the one he willingly expanded and redefined as a frontal assault on al-Qaida - but like Iraq for former President George W. Bush, the Afghanistan war is becoming political baggage.
Americans have little enthusiasm for the Afghanistan mission in this election year, and a string of violent or distasteful incidents involving U.S. forces have refocused national attention on whether the war is achieving its goals.
The resentment and contempt each side feels for the other appears to have reached some breaking point in Afghanistan, with a rising number of killings of American troops by Afghan recruits this year. The relationship was far from perfect in Iraq, but fratricide was rare by comparison.
Six in 10 Americans see the war as not worth its costs, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday but conducted before news emerged of a massacre of Afghan civilians, apparently by a U.S. soldier, reports CBS News.
Panetta travelled to Afghanistan just days after a US soldier shot dead 16 villagers -- most of them women and children -- in southern Kandahar province in the worst single such incident since the 2001 US-led invasion.
The suspect in the massacre, a US Army sergeant who had served three tours in Iraq, had been flown out of Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, with military sources saying he was now in Kuwait. Panetta was due to meet President Hamid Karzai in Kabul later on Thursday in an attempt to shore up relations hurt by a series of incidents, including the massacre and the burning of Korans at a US military base last month, says Hindustan Times.