US Maj Gen Chris Donahue: Pic of last US soldier leaving Kabul becomes defining image of war
Image of Donahue boarding plane goes viral as the US finally ends its 20-year war in Afghanistan, despite around 200 Americans being left behind
As President Joe Biden promised, the United States finally ended its 20-year war and occupation of Afghanistan on August 31 or rather a few hours before. Shortly before midnight, Major Gen Christopher Donahue was the last American soldier to leave the country, boarding a US cargo plane in a now-viral image. The defining image is one of the many that will highlight the US' 'war on terror', and has now drawn a considerable amount of interest in Donahue.
Donahue's departure marks the end of a chaotic withdrawal, which also happened to be one of America's biggest evacuations. Over the course of over two weeks, the US evacuated hundreds of citizens, and some Afghan allies as it rushed to leave the Taliban-controlled nation. On August 27, the acting US ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson was slammed for saying some Americans "chose not to leave" despite warnings. Those comments came as hundreds were still trapped in Afghanistan, with little way out as the US began wrapping up operations.
The urgency to leave was further highlighted by an ISIS-K bomb blast outside the airport on August 26, with the Taliban also warning of "consequences" if the US didn't leave. Biden has stuck to his promise and all US troops have now evacuated the nation. According to General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, evacuation flights ended 12 hours before Donahue and the military finally left the nation.
Who is Maj Gen Chris Donahue?
Donahue is the commander of the US Army 82nd Airborne Division. He was reportedly in charge of overseeing the evacuations from Afghanistan. Before that, he was based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The two-star Army general graduated from West Point in 1992 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Infantry Branch. In his nearly 3-decade long service, Donahue has served in Korea and Panama, before being promoted to Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Following a stint at the Pentagon, Donahue moved to Fort Bragg. A profile from Fort Benning says Donahue then attended Harvard University as a US Army War College Fellow. Following this, he had stints as the Director of Operations for the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), deputy commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, and as the Infantry School Commandant and Director of the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team at Fort Benning.
Over the course of his career, Donahue has been deployed 17 times in support of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. For all his service, he will however best be remembered for the iconic image from Hamid Karzai International Airport. According to the New York Post, after the flight, he received a call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. It marks the end of a long effort where over 123,000 people have been evacuated.
The last American soldier to leave Afghanistan: Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the @82ndABNDiv, @18airbornecorps boards an @usairforce C-17 on August 30th, 2021, ending the U.S. mission in Kabul. pic.twitter.com/j5fPx4iv6a— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) August 30, 2021
Some Americans left behind
Despite efforts, not everyone has been evacuated Gen McKenzie noted. "We did not get out everybody we had wanted to get out," he said on August 30. "There are Americans for a variety of reasons who want to stay for a while." It's unclear just how many Americans are still left in Afghanistan, but it is estimated to be around 200. If and when they chose to leave, they will have to resort to diplomacy, but it could be a bit of a challenge.
Following the withdrawal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the nation would no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. Instead, the US has moved its embassy to Doha, Qatar. "Given the uncertain security environment and political situation in Afghanistan, it was the prudent step to take," he said in comments on August 30. Without an embassy, it is unclear how Americans will contact the US and have their case heard.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and concerns that the US withdrawal has raised. For now, we won't get many answers and the Biden administration, like all previous ones, is keen on touting its successes rather than failures.
The iconic image of Donahue is one of those, a reminder of America's long and bloody conflict that appears to have changed little. At the time of reporting, the image of Donahue had been retweeted over 9k times and amassed over 29k likes since first being posted by the Department of Defense.
Since then, it has gone on to be a key topic of conversation on social media, with it being tweeted by numerous people including journalists, veterans, and even politicians. Sen. Joe Manchin was one of the many people to retweet the photo and welcome troops back. It has also gone on to grace the covers of almost all the news stories, as it is perhaps the most significant moment in the US conflict since troops first landed in Afghanistan in 2001.