AN Afghan man who crashed a stolen truck at an airfield as US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta's plane was landing there has died of his injuries.
US Lt Gen Curtis Scaparotti, the deputy commander of American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters travelling with Panetta that the man died on Thursday morning of severe burns.
Scaparotti said the man, said to be an Afghan interpreter, apparently had a container of fuel in the car, which ignited during the crash on Wednesday at Camp Bastion, the British airfield in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
The driver travelled at high speed and crashed into a ditch near the ramp where Panetta's plane was going to park.
Scaparotti said the driver was headed toward a group of Marines at the ramp.
"My personal opinion is I think he had the intent to harm," Scaparotti said, but refused to see it as an attempt to target Panetta.
"I personally don't believe it had anything to do with the secretary's arrival," he said. There is "no way you can identify one aircraft from the other".
"He passed away in medical care this morning," the general said, adding that a coalition soldier injured in the incident was British.
In the bizarre incident, about the time Panetta's aircraft was landing at Camp Bastion, the Afghan "contract employee" hijacked a pick-up truck from a soldier in the US-led coalition force.
He drove the vehicle at high speed before he crashed into a ditch and emerged in flames, Panetta's spokesman George Little told reporters.
No one in Panetta's party was hurt, said a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain John Kirby.
The truck did not explode, said Colonel Gary Kolb, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan, countering earlier reports that the vehicle had burst into flames. The driver was treated for burns.
There was no indication that the driver knew Panetta was in the plane. There were no explosives found either in the vehicle or on the driver, Kolb said. Panetta was told about the incident after he got off the aircraft.
It was unclear what the driver had in mind, or even if it was a failed attack. "It's too early to say right now," Kolb said.
"It may have been a coincidence."
He said a service member with the US-led coalition saw the Afghan stealing the truck and tried to stop him, but the man hit the service member with the truck as he drove off. The service member was injured but Kolb did not say how seriously.