By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 16, 2012 – The senior NATO International Security Assistance Force commander in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province was among the welcoming party at Bastion Airfield threatened by the driver of a stolen vehicle, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters today.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus led the March 14 welcoming party for Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who visited Bastion and the adjacent Camp Leatherneck on the first stop of a two-day Afghanistan visit that concluded yesterday.
The group at Bastion airfield scattered when a local Afghan, who worked as an interpreter on the base, raced toward the party in a stolen vehicle, apparently attempting to run them down, a senior defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters. The official spoke on background because the event is still under ISAF investigation.
No one in the welcoming party was injured, the official said, but the attacker, who set himself ablaze while apparently attempting to ignite a fire in the stolen vehicle, died of severe burn injuries at around 1:30 local time yesterday morning.
ISAF investigators questioned three other Afghan employees at the base, the official said. Two of the three questioned are the father and brother of the man who died, and are also interpreters at the camp, the official added. The official noted there are no indications any of the three questioned had previous knowledge of the attack or of the secretary’s planned visit.
Other details revealed during the investigation, according to a second official also speaking on background, include information on the vehicle theft. A white Hi-lux sport utility vehicle belonging to British forces at the camp was stolen from a British soldier at Camp Leatherneck about 30 minutes before the airfield incident, the second official said.
Investigators reported a British soldier was run over by the interpreter in the stolen vehicle, but it is unclear whether it was the same soldier from whom the vehicle was stolen. The latest update gave the injured soldier’s condition as stable, the first official said.
The vehicle approached the welcoming party at the airfield while Panetta’s plane was taxiing in, the first official added.
“It remains ISAF’s view that it is unlikely that the individual [in the stolen vehicle] knew the secretary was on the plane,” the first official said.
“We believe that he intended to cause harm to individuals … [but] we don’t know … if he knew specifically who he was heading toward,” the first official added.