At a minute past midnight on Monday, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the famous 82nd Airborne Division, boarded the last aircraft out of Afghanistan, his weapon resting by his side. Donahue was the last American soldier to do so.
To put Donahue’s departure in historical context, it might be compared to the picture captured in 1989 when the Red Army conducted its last withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was led by a Soviet general over the Friendship Bridge into Uzbekistan.
In order to put an end to a military operation that, with the assistance of friends, was able to evacuate 123,000 people from Afghanistan, the final aircraft load of American soldiers flew out of Afghanistan under the cover of darkness.
Images of General Boris Gromov, commander of the Soviet Union’s 40th Army in Afghanistan, on the other hand, show him strolling with his son over a bridge over the Amu Darya river, holding a bouquet of red and white flowers in his arms, in stark contrast.
Even though they had paid mujahideen factions to ensure safe passage along the route, the last of Gromov’s 50,000 soldiers were subjected to scattered assaults as they proceeded northwards to the Uzbek border as they completed an orderly withdrawal.
The harrowing images from their chaotic final days in Kabul will remain with Donahue and his comrades: parents passing babies to them across razor wire, two young Afghans falling from a plane climbing high in the sky, and, most horrifying of all, the aftermath of an Islamic State suicide bomb attack outside the Kabul airport on Aug. 26 that killed scores of Afghans and 13 of their fellow Americans.