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Security Scare As Panetta's Afghan Visit Continues


U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (center) leaves a meeting with ISAF troops during his Afghanistan visit on March 14.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (center) leaves a meeting with ISAF troops during his Afghanistan visit on March 14.

U.S. officials say an Afghan man has died from burn injuries after he tried to attack U.S. Marines welcoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a base in Helmand Province on March 14.

NATO officials say the man, an interpreter at Camp Bastion, stole a truck, and sped down the runway toward the disembarking ramp just as Panetta's plane was landing.

Reports say the attacker emerged on fire from the vehicle. A U.S. deputy commander said the dead man had a container of fuel in his truck.

It was not immediately clear whether the Marines fired at the truck.

The incident was reported shortly before Panetta was due to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on March 15.

Panetta's visit comes with Afghanistan reeling from an apparent rampage by a U.S. soldier that killed at least 16 civilians in villages near an international military facility and revelations last month that Korans had been improperly disposed of by U.S. troops.

Afghans have demanded that the suspected killer -- a sergeant whose name has not been released -- face trial in their country, but U.S. officials have said he will instead face a military trial and reportedly flown him out of the country.

Some 1,000 people in Qalat in the southern Zabul Province turned out for a March 15 protest over the murders. There was no word of violence accompanying the demonstration.

U.S. officials including Panetta and President Barack Obama have expressed to Afghan officials their deep regret over the tragedy.

Last month, U.S. officials sought to nip anger over the Koran burnings with apologies, but deadly protests and unrest broke out nevertheless.

With Reuters and AFP reporting
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