We are blogging the latest news about America's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Email us at AfPak [at] huffingtonpost.com. Follow Nico on Twitter; follow Nicholas on Twitter. See archives of 'At War' here.
3:00 PM ET -- US charity group workers killed in Pakistan. From the AP:
Suspected militants armed with assault rifles and a homemade bomb attacked the offices of a U.S.-based Christian aid group helping earthquake survivors in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six Pakistani employees, police and the organization said.
The attack prompted World Vision, a major international humanitarian group, to suspend its operations in Pakistan. Other aid organizations condemned the violence but said it would not lead them to curtail their own activities.
The assault took place in Ogi, a small town in Mansehra district that was badly hit by the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, which killed about 80,000 people and left 3 million people homeless.
"It was a brutal and senseless attack," said Dean Owen, World Vision spokesman in Seattle, Washington. "It was completely unexpected, unannounced and unprovoked."
About a dozen militants were involved in the attack, according to the New York Times.
9:40 AM ET -- Ahmadinejad accuses US of "double game." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at a press conference in Kabul Wednesday, accused the U.S. of playing a "double game" in Afghanistan by fighting insurgents that it had previously supported during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. His comments were in response to similar accusations made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week that Iran was having it both ways by promoting a positive relationship with the Afghan government while also providing support to the Taliban in effort to undermine coalition forces' efforts.
More from the AP:
Iran calls the accusation by Gates part of a broad anti-Iranian campaign by the U.S. and says it makes no sense that Iran's Shiite-led government would help the fundamentalist Sunni movement of the Taliban.
"I believe that they themselves," who are now fighting militants in Afghanistan, "are playing a double game," said Ahmadinejad, who has made several visits to the country. "They themselves created terrorists and now they're saying that they are fighting terrorists."
9:30 AM ET -- Gates visits ghost town of Now Zad On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited the town of Now Zad in Helmand province, months after U.S. Marines had cleared the area of Taliban militants. The fight in Marjah follows the template of the offensive in Now Zad, which was carried out in December. Gates remarked that a few months ago Now Zad was a ghost town, as most people had fled because of the fighting, but now they were slowly returning. So far, 2,500 of the 30,000 residents who lived in the city have now returned.
"A few months ago this place was a ghost town, a no-go zone," Gates told Marines at an outpost on the edge of town, according to the AP. "Now, as I saw for myself, stores are opening, people are returning."
But as Raw Story reports, there are contradictions between the perception that Now Zad is now filled with people and safe, and with the reality that so few residents have returned and that Marines had to clear away the local population before Gates' arrival. The Associated Press noted, "[i]ronically, to demonstrate that the town is safe enough for Gates to visit, U.S. forces held at bay the very Afghan townspeople Marines fought to bring back."
The Washington Post's take on Gates visit Now Zad does a great job of teasing out the slight absurdity of the situation.
This southern Afghan city has been touted as a symbol of the progress U.S. troops have made in recent weeks. But when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates swung through the main market Tuesday, it seemed mostly to be a symbol of the work that remains to be done.
One of the main streets was empty. Shopkeepers' stalls were abandoned. There was no electricity and no sewer system. [...]
Even now, on most days, only about 70 of the 1,500 shops in the Now Zad's main bazaar are up and running.
Dressed in a blue-and-white-striped shirt, khaki pants and a blue Marine Corps baseball cap, Gates chatted with a half-dozen shopkeepers in Now Zad who were manning their small stalls. Spools of razor wire ran down the middle of the street. Helicopters circled overhead, and a squad of Marines, carrying rifles, stood watch on the roofs of nearby buildings
"I am glad your shop is open," Gates told one shopkeeper, whose small store consisted of a few bottles of soda and some boxes of potatoes. [...]
As Gates chatted with the shopkeeper, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the second-highest-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan, bought a soda from the market stall. He was the only customer.
9:20 AM ET -- Some troops leaving early? Robert Gates says troops involved in current US surge in Afghanistan could leave before the withdrawal date in July of next year, though he remained vague on specifics and also insisted that "we should not be too impatient" with regard to the mission there.
From the AP:
In a press conference with Gates, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said his country is ashamed to have foreigners assuming its defense, and eager to take over the job. He referred repeatedly to the goal of some handover of responsibility by the fall of next year. The goal is to expand the Afghan National Army to 171,000 by then, and the police force to 134,000.