Dec. 13, 2012— -- A suicide bomber struck today outside an air base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, just hours after U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had left the area, Afghan officials said.
"Insurgents detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device" and Coalition Forces are on the scene assessing the situation and collecting facts, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed in a written statement.
One NATO soldier and two Afghan soldiers were killed, according to the provincial governor of Kandahar. Eleven Afghan civilians were also wounded.
Little provided no information on whether the attack was associated with Panetta's visit.
The incident tonight, which took place just outside the main gate of Kandahar Air Field, happened after Panetta, on a surprise visit to Afghanistan, had been at the base for a series of meetings with U.S. military officials. He had already left the base when the attack occurred.
Kandahar Air Field, or KAF, is the biggest U.S. military installation in southern Afghanistan, a key Taliban stronghold. The gate is the main access point to the military airfield.
The suicide attacker drove a Toyota SUV up to the base before it exploded, according to Saeed Azeem Hassani, director of the Afghan National Army hospital at the air base.
Suicide attacks are common in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the south. During Panetta's last visit to Afghanistan in March, he came under attack when a lone Afghan driving a commandeered vehicle managed to breach base security at Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province. The driver made it on to the runway, forcing Panetta's plane to swerve to avoid it, before the vehicle crashed and burst into flames.
In August, a plane belonging to U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, was damaged by mortar fire while it was parked overnight at the heavily fortified Bagram Airbase, just outside Kabul.