Foreign Policy: Southern Discomfort

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Above, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta leaves after visiting with troops on March 14 at the Foward Operating Base in Shukvani, Afghanistan. Panetta was also scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his two-day visit. i i

hide captionAbove, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta leaves after visiting with troops on March 14 at the Foward Operating Base in Shukvani, Afghanistan. Panetta was also scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his two-day visit.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Above, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta leaves after visiting with troops on March 14 at the Foward Operating Base in Shukvani, Afghanistan. Panetta was also scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his two-day visit.

Above, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta leaves after visiting with troops on March 14 at the Foward Operating Base in Shukvani, Afghanistan. Panetta was also scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his two-day visit.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta got a first-hand glimpse of the precarious security situation in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, when a flaming vehicle got too close for comfort to Panetta's plane as he landed in Helmand Province for a long-scheduled visit.

While it could not be confirmed if the event was an attack on Panetta, the uncertainties and conflicting reports that followed the secretary's arrival are not unusual for a region that has been the scene of intense fighting between coalition forces and the Taliban insurgency. The trip came as the Taliban vowed revenge following this past weekend's killing spree by a U.S. soldier who is accused of killing 16 civilians — most of whom where women and children — in Afghanistan. Close on the heels of protests following the revelation that American forces in the country had authorized the burning of Qurans, the incidents have reinvigorated the debate over the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

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