Carrying his rifle, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the famous 82nd Airborne Division, became the last US serviceman to board the last flight out of Afghanistan one minute before midnight Tuesday (31).
Captured from a side window of the C-17 transport plane using a night vision device, the ghostly green and black image of the general walking towards the waiting plane on the runway at Hamid Airport Karzai from Kabul was broadcast by the Pentagon. hours after the United States ended its 20-year military presence in Afghanistan.
As a moment in history, the image of Donahue’s departure can be compared to that of a Soviet general who led an armored column across the Friendship Bridge between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan when the Army rouge completed its exit from Afghanistan in 1989.
Completing a military operation which, with the help of allies, succeeded in evacuating 123,000 civilians from Afghanistan, the last plane carrying American troops left under cover of night.
Although this is a static image, the impression one gets is that Donahue is walking fast, his expression unperturbed. He is in uniform and in battle gear, night vision goggles on his helmet and a rifle. He had not yet left Afghanistan or reached safety.
In contrast, footage of General Boris Gromov, commander of the Soviet Union’s 40th Army in Afghanistan, shows him walking arm in arm with his son across the bridge over the Amu-Darya River, carrying a bouquet of red flowers. and white.
The American and Soviet withdrawals from what has become the Graveyard of Empires were conducted in very different ways, but at least they avoided the calamitous defeat suffered by Britain in the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1842.
The lingering image of this conflict is Elizabeth Thompson’s oil painting “Remains of an Army,” which shows an exhausted lone rider, Deputy Military Surgeon William Brydon, seated with difficulty in the saddle of a still horse. more exhausted when leaving Kabul. .
When the Russian Red Army left, a pro-Moscow Communist government was still in power in Afghanistan, and its army would continue to fight for another three years. Now, however, the US-backed Afghan government has surrendered and Kabul fell to the Taliban just over two weeks before the August 31 deadline set for the withdrawal of US troops.
With an orderly retreat, the last members of Gromov’s 50,000 soldiers continued to be the target of isolated attacks as they moved north towards the Uzbek border, although they paid groups of mujahedin to ensure their safe passage to the border.
Gromov’s column crossed the Friendship Bridge on February 15, 1989, ending the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan in which 14,450 Soviet soldiers died.
Asked how he felt about returning to Soviet soil, Gromov reportedly replied: “Glad we did our duty and returned home.” I regret nothing “.
The US evacuation of Kabul will be judged on the basis of the number of people evacuated from the country and those left behind. But Donahue and his comrades will still remember images of their chaotic last days in Kabul: parents passing babies over barbed wire, two young Afghans falling from a plane taking off, and the aftermath of an Islamist state attack. outside the airport, which killed dozens of Afghans and 13 US servicemen.
Translation by Clara Allain