KABUL, Afghanistan — An American service member was killed and three others were wounded Thursday when a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a heavily armored military vehicle just outside a base where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had visited troops earlier in the day.
The attack outside Kandahar Airfield, a heavily guarded base in Kandahar province, underscored the tenuous security in the country's south, the Taliban's heartland, as the U.S. military footprint continues to thin out. Two Afghan civilians were killed and several were wounded by the blast, local officials said.
The bombing happened about 5 p.m., just a few hours after Panetta had been at the base thanking troops for their service during a wind-chilled outdoor ceremony. It was the second major security incident this year to cast a pall on a Panetta visit to Afghanistan. When he was last here, in May, a suspected insurgent rammed a stolen vehicle into an airfield shortly after Panetta landed and tried to attack the visiting delegation.
After returning to Kabul on Thursday, Panetta met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the size and type of U.S. military force that might remain in place after the end of the American combat mission in Afghanistan in December 2014.
"We now have an opportunity to make these gains lasting," the secretary said during a joint news conference at the presidential palace.
Panetta said the Obama administration will host Karzai in Washington in January to discuss final details of a security agreement that could spell out the terms of continued U.S. military presence here beyond 2014. The two leaders declined to discuss the troop levels under consideration.