A middle-aged policeman named Radmadullah speaks for his fellow cops. “Everyone looks like a farmer, everyone acts like a farmer,” he says vaguely, implying there could be insurgents in the town while artfully dodging the lieutenant’s pointed question.

Gackstatter eyes Radmadullah. It occurs to the young lieutenant that he has never seen this particular cop before. And yet here the man sits, representing the entire ALP unit as though he were a longtime veteran of the force. Radmadullah really is a trained and certified local policeman — he has the identity card to prove it — but his background and relationship to Zenadon are unclear. And that makes Gackstatter nervous.

Teacups are drained. Gum is spit out. Half the Americans and several Afghans grab their weapons and head into the heart of Zenadon in a long snaking line. Park takes the lead while Barnes anchors the center of the patrol. Park, always with a wad of chewing tobacco bulging in his lower lip, navigates the mostly lifeless village until he finds that suspicious-looking green flag still suspended from its tree.

He’s about to ask one of the ALP about the banner when the Afghan leans in and tears down the flag, insisting it’s just garbage blown into the branches by the wind.

But it was tied there, Park thinks.