KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bomber killed two Afghan civilians and wounded 14 others on Thursday near the main U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan, Afghan and American officials said. The attack took place after visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had left the facility.
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, said the attacker targeted another vehicle that was driving near the gate that provides access to the military side of the city's airport. He said all 14 wounded were civilians, but he had no other details.
Taliban spokesman Qari Jusuf Ahmedi claimed responsibility for the attack in an email, saying a suicide car bomber had targeted foreign military vehicles that were stopped near the gate of Kandahar Airfield.
It was unclear if the attack had anything to do with Panetta's unannounced visit to Kandahar Airfield. Kandahar is a huge and sprawling facility that houses more than 20,000 service members from 20 countries and has more than 11,000 civilian contract workers.
Afghan officials earlier said that three NATO troops were among the 14 wounded. The U.S.-led NATO coalition, or ISAF, said it could not immediately comment on any casualties.
The attack occurred after Mr. Panetta had left the base, his press secretary said. Mr. Panetta is on a visit to Afghanistan and was to meet later in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. Panetta was at Kandahar Airfield for about three hours, receiving an update briefing on the region by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, the region's top coalition commander. Mr. Panetta also spoke to about 350 U.S. troops and took a few questions from them before flying back to Kabul.
"I can confirm that insurgents detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in the vicinity of Kandahar Airfield. Currently ISAF officials are on the scene collecting facts and assessing the situation, and as information becomes available we will release it as appropriate. I have no information at this time that this incident was associated with the visit of the Secretary of Defense. The attack occurred after the Secretary returned to Kabul," George Little, Mr. Panetta's press secretary, said.
A U.S. official said early indications were that the attacker did not breach the base's perimeter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is in the early stages of investigation.
Earlier, Javeed Faisal, who is a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the attack took place just after nightfall and was carried out by a bomber on a motorcycle. There are often conflicting reports in the wake of suicide attacks.
Suicide bombings and other attacks are not uncommon in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Amir Shah contributed to this report from Kabul.