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Pentagon: Afghan security breach was more serious than reported

View Photo Gallery — The killings, Karzai’s office said in a statement, have “damaged the U.S. and Afghan relationship.”

By , Published: March 15 washingtonpost.com

The Pentagon acknowledged Thursday that a security breach during Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s visit to Afghanistan was much more serious than officials first reported, saying that an Afghan man tried to ram a stolen truck into a group of VIPs who were waiting to greet Panetta just moments after his plane landed at a military base.

The driver set himself on fire Wednesday and apparently tried to ignite containers of gasoline in the cab of the truck as he attempted to run over several high-ranking Marine officers and others who were waiting for Panetta’s plane to park, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.

“He took a vehicle by force, drove it onto a ramp, at a high rate of speed, drove it at individuals who had to get out of the way to keep from getting hit by it, and then a flash of smoke and fire [appeared] in the cab,” Kirby told reporters.

The Afghan man was quickly apprehended. He suffered severe burns and died. Panetta’s plane was diverted to another ramp at Camp Bastion, a British installation adjoining the U.S. Marines’ Camp Leatherneck base in the southern province of Helmand.

U.S. military officials withheld news of the attack for 10 hours from reporters who were traveling on the same plane with Panetta, releasing sketchy information about it only after British news media broke the story. The officials tried to play down the seriousness of the incident, saying Panetta was never in danger. They also said Wednesday that they could not confirm that the incident was an attempted attack or even that it was linked to Panetta’s visit.

On Thursday, Panetta also tried to minimize his close brush with danger, saying he did not think the attack was aimed at him.

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