Two possibly unrelated news stories from Afghanistan came across my desk this evening.
The first report, citing military sources, says that the American soldier suspected of murdering sixteen Afghans last Sunday has been flown out of the country to Kuwait. The action was not necessarily taken to protect the alleged killer’s life, since the United States has not ruled out his being tried in Afghanistan under local (sharia) law, and has left the possibility of capital punishment on the table.
So one can only assume that the military authorities are worried that the situation could get out of hand if the suspect were to remain in-country. Presumably he will be returned later for a show trial and execution.
While the unnamed killer was being flown out, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was being flown in. Just before Mr. Panetta arrived at Camp Bastion, an Afghan interpreter stole a truck from a British soldier — who was injured, and may have been run over during the incident — and then crashed the perimeter fence of the airbase. The driver then apparently doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.
The incident raises a couple of questions:
- Did the attacker know Secretary Panetta was about to land?
- If so, how did he find out the time and place of the SecDef’s arrival?
- Was it a direct attempt to harm Mr. Panetta, or simply an expression of generalized Islamic rage at the sins of the Great Satan?
I assume we’ll learn the answers to these questions before long. In the meantime, here’s the story from FOX News:
Military Source Calls Incident at Afghanistan Airport an ‘Attempted Attack’
A military source tells Fox News the strange incident on the tarmac Wednesday at Camp Bastion that occurred moments before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived via C-17 was an attempted attack.
This official could not say whether the local Afghan involved knew Panetta was about to arrive, but he could say it certainly wasn’t any type of accident.
Fox News has learned the attacker was an Afghan interpreter who was carrying gasoline and a lighter with him in the pickup truck, which he managed to steal from a British service member. The coalition service member was injured during the incident, possibly run over by the truck.
The Afghan interpreter managed to drive the stolen car over the very ramp where Panetta was set to arrive. The secretary was soon diverted to another ramp.
After crashing the pickup truck into a ditch, the driver got out and had apparently lit himself on fire, according to this source.
Pentagon Spokesman George Little put out a statement earlier saying “no explosives were found.”
The statement also said the driver is now in custody, and an investigation is underway.
Defense Secretary Panetta was visiting Afghanistan to hold a series of meetings with troops and Afghan leaders in the wake of the killing of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. soldier.
The U.S. military command in Afghanistan must be dreading the next few weeks — one more incident of Koran-burning or berserker murder or peeing towards Mecca, and it could have a major conflagration on its hands.
Forget winning “hearts and minds” — maintaining basic security for coalition forces will be a tough enough job in itself.