U.S. Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta, presents Purple Hearts to military personnel of the 172nd Infantry Brigade Task Force Blackhawks at a forward operating base in Sharana, Afghanistan,Wednesday, Dec., 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)
KABUL (CBS/AP) -- An Afghan man who somehow caught fire when he crashed a stolen truck as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's plane was landing nearby has died in custody from his burns, a U.S. military official said Thursday.
U.S. Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti told reporters in the Afghan capital that the man apparently tried to ram the truck into a group of U.S. Marines at the U.K.'s Camp Bastion airfield in Helmand province on Wednesday.
Scaparrotti said the Afghan man, whom he described as a contract translator, likely had no idea the U.S. defense chief was arriving at Camp Bastion at about the same time. CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports, however, that the media members traveling with Panetta have made clear their skepticism on that point, given the timing and location of the incident.
Regardless of the suspect's intentions, no one in Panetta's party was hurt as the incident unfolded on Wednesday, according to Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby.
"We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission," Panetta told about 200 Marines later Wednesday at Camp Leatherneck. "We will be tested we will be challenged, we'll be challenged by our enemy, we'll be challenged by ourselves, we'll be challenged by the hell of war itself. But none of that, none of that, must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve."
In the bizarre incident, the pickup truck traveled at high speed and crashed into a ditch near the ramp where Panetta's plane was going to park at the British airfield in in southern Afghanistan.
Suddenly the driver caught on fire, but the truck did not explode, said Col. Gary Kolb, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, countering earlier reports that the vehicle burst into flames.
The driver was treated for burns, but later succumbed to his injuries, according to Scaparrotti.
A new twist to the incident surfaced Thursday, meanwhile, as a senior defense official told CBS News' Reid that a military dog was unleashed on the burning man and might even have dragged him from the vehicle. The dog sustained minor burns as it grappled with the burning man, according to the official.
There were no explosives found either in the vehicle or on the driver, Kolb said on Wednesday. Panetta was told about the incident after he got off the aircraft.
Kolb said a service member with the U.S.-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. Kolb did not say how seriously.
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