KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan breached security at a British air field military base in southern Afghanistan, driving a stolen vehicle onto a runway ramp and emerging in flames as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta landed Wednesday morning, Pentagon officials said.
The episode came at the start of an unannounced and tense visit that was the first by a senior member of the Obama administration since an American soldier reportedly killed 16 Afghan civilians, mostly children and women, in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. The two-day visit was planned months ago, but it has taken on a new urgency since the Sunday massacre.
Mr. Panetta, like President Obama, has denounced the killings in Kandahar, and vowed to bring the killer to justice, a message he is to deliver in person to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and top Afghan defense and interior officials while he is in Afghanistan. The killings have further clouded Afghan-American relations, which were already strained.
Mr. Panetta was landing at Camp Bastion, a British air field that adjoins Camp Leatherneck, a vast Marine base in Helmand Province, which abuts Kandahar. Afterward Mr. Panetta continued as planned with remarks to Marines and international troops at Camp Leatherneck and then headed as scheduled for a trip to a remote combat outpost, Shukvani, in western Helmand.Mr. Little said the stolen vehicle never exploded, counter to some earlier reports.
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