BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Laughter fills the hospital room as a nurse asks both patient and visitor if they are twins.
“No, we are cousins,” says the visitor through an interpreter. “But, we are very close.”
Five of the seven local nationals injured in a bombing in Shkin village, Paktika province were listed in stable condition Sep. 6 at Bagram’s Craig Joint Theater Hospital and are receiving visitors.
Noor Mohammad is a cousin of Kasim Mullah, who sustained a broken leg and multiple lacerations during the blast. The two are nearly identical with light blue eyes and curly hair.
Mullah was one of many locals gathered in the bazaar the afternoon of Aug. 28 when the attack occurred, killing one and injuring seven others.
Immediately before the blast, villagers report seeing a package left unattended in the bazaar by a local believed to work for Nazir, a Taliban commander in the area. Shortly after the explosion, the same individual was seen celebrating, while other villagers ran to help.
“One man was working in the bazaar to help his brother, the shopkeeper,” said Amin, an uncle of one of the victims who drove from Kabul to visit. “It was his brother that was killed, but he has not been told yet.”
His nephew, Noor Mohammed, lost both legs in the explosion, but is recovering quickly and already moving around in a wheelchair. Amin told doctors that when Noor is released, he wants to take him to Kabul until he is well enough to make the journey back to Shkin.
He continued, saying that with Ramadan, the bazaar was busy as people bought food for their evening meal and all the men wounded were either working or buying food for their families.
“Only one of the men worked for a local security force,” he said. “The rest are all civilians.”
After the explosion, medics from the local Afghan National Police force provided medical treatment to the injured villagers, until U.S. Special Forces medics could arrange for air support to medically evacuate the seven critically wounded locals.
The seven men were first stabilized at Forward Operating Base Sharana by a Field Surgical Team. Five required additional surgeries due to the extensive nature of their injuries and were transferred to Bagram.
Local district elders believe the bombing was retaliation by Nazir for the killing of several insurgents last April by the local ANP.
“This village and district have strong pro-GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and pro-Coalition ties,” said a Special Forces officer who surveyed the damaged bazaar. “Instead of attacking the ANP or us, the insurgents have resorted to attacking the civilians of this village.”
As the wounded men recuperate, plans to rebuild the bazaar are already underway. The seven tribes in the area are joining together to pool money to build a bazaar that’s bigger than the one destroyed, said an individual with knowledge of the plans. The new bazaar will also incorporate storage for each of the tribes to use for their individual shops.
As the plans move forward and rubble is cleared, the five men recovering from the blast laugh and talk with loved-ones and neighbors who’ve made the long trip to Bagram. The cousins that could pass as twins talk about home over muffins and juice boxes, smiling virtually identical smiles.
The nurses move from patient to patient around them, looking up occasionally at the laugher, an unusual sound in the normally quiet ward.