If the man had been Taliban, his death would have meant one fewer fighter planting the bombs that were devastating American soldiers in the area. But if he was a farmer with the bad luck to work crops on a battlefield, then the American soldiers had alienated one of the very people they were trying to win over, perhaps even giving him strong incentive to support the Taliban. The clustered soldiers and police seemed to doubt the latter scenario.
"What were you doing down in the canal?" Solomon asked the patient.
"Why did you have an AK?"
"I didn't have a weapon," the wounded man said, the back of his hand propped on his forehead, resting against his black turban. "I had a wheelbarrow."
"I'm pretty sure I know the difference between an AK and a wheelbarrow," Farnsworth responded.
The man identified himself as Shir Ali, 40 years old. Farnsworth said he recognized him. Several days earlier, after the platoon had been hit with an IED that took a soldier's legs, Farnsworth had noticed this man watching them.
Solomon asked the wounded man when he'd last been in the area where the IED exploded."I've never been there," he said.
"You're a liar," Farnsworth said. "I know you're lying to me."
Another soldier walked out and saw the man reclining on a stretcher. "What happened to him?"
"I shot him in the leg," Farnsworth said.
"For real?" the soldier said, only half interested. Gunfire, and its effects, had long ago woven itself deeply into the soldiers' days.
Spc. Clayton Taylor, the platoon's medic, wiped a smear of blood from the man's leg, then packed gauze into the exit wound. The man didn't wince or flinch as Taylor pushed an index finger inside his thigh. Taylor wrapped a bandage around the leg to hold the gauze until the man could be taken to a larger base, where the wound would be cleaned and stitched.
The man who claimed to be the patient's brother watched the medic work, doubtful. "But the wound looks very bad," he said. "Shouldn't something more be done?"
Taylor looked up at him. "Are you a doctor, or a farmer?" he asked.
The man laughed nervously. "Farmer," he said.
"Do I come out to your field and tell you how to grow?" Taylor said.
Staff Sergeant Edward Rosa, one of the platoon's squad leaders, pulled the gray-bearded man aside.
"If you're not Taliban, why won't you help the Americans?" Rosa asked.
"There are Taliban everywhere," the old man said. "It's a big problem."
"I know it's a big problem. That's why we're out here, getting hurt, trying to help your country," Rosa said. "If you don't help us, even a little bit, nothing is going to change."
The man stared at him.
"You have Taliban living in that compound," Rosa said.
"I know there's Taliban there," he said "But we're farmers. We're poor people. What can I do?"
Rosa had met the man months earlier, during a foot patrol. He had refused to shake the soldiers' hands. "Now your brother gets shot and you bring him here for us to help him?"