Carrying his rifle, General Chris Donahue, commander of the celebrated 82nd Airborne Division, became the last US military to board the final flight out of Afghanistan one minute before midnight on Tuesday (31).
Captured from a side window of the C-17 transport plane with the help of a night vision device, the ghostly green and black image of the general walking to the plane waiting on the runway at Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul was released. 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 Red Army completed its exit from Afghanistan in 1989 .
Completing a military operation that, with the help of allies, managed to evacuate 124,000 civilians from Afghanistan, the last plane carrying American troops left under cover of night.
Although it is a static image, the impression one gets is that Donahue is walking quickly, his expression undaunted. He is in uniform and combat gear, night vision goggles over his helmet and a rifle. He had not yet left Afghanistan or reached safety.
In contrast, images of General Boris Gromov, commander of the Soviet Union’s 40th Army in Afghanistan, show him walking arm in arm with his son across the bridge over the Amu Darya River, carrying a bouquet of red and white flowers.
American and Soviet withdrawals from what became known as the graveyard of empires were conducted in very different ways, but at least they averted 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, Assistant Military Surgeon William Brydon, sitting with difficulty in the saddle of an even more exhausted horse on the way out. of 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 had fallen to the Taliban just over two weeks before the Aug. 31 deadline set for the withdrawal of US troops.
Making an orderly retreat, the last members of Gromov’s 50,000 soldiers continued to be targets of isolated attacks as they drove north towards the Uzbek border, despite having paid mujahideen groups 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 had died.
Asked how he felt about returning to Soviet soil, Gromov would have replied: “Glad that we did our duty and returned home. I don’t regret anything”.
The American evacuation from Kabul will be judged on the basis of how many people were evacuated from the country and how many were left behind. But Donahue and his comrades will still remember images of their last chaotic days in Kabul: parents passing babies over the barbed wire fence to them, two young Afghans falling from a plane taking off, and the aftermath of an Islamic State attack outside the airport, which killed dozens of Afghans and 13 US military personnel.
Translation by Clara Allain