By Jessica Banov
Tribune News Service
After 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan, the last service member has left the country, and he’s the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
At 7:37 p.m. EST Monday, the 18th Airborne Corps tweeted a photo of “the last soldier to leave Afghanistan.” The Department of Defense identified the soldier as Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps’ 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The departure comes less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought service members to the country in the first place.
“In awe of our Sky Dragon Soldiers,” according to the tweet from the 18th Airborne Corps. “This was an incredibly tough, pressurized mission filled with multiple complexities, with active threats the entire time. Our troops displayed grit, discipline and empathy.”
The dramatic photo, taken through a night vision scope and provided by U.S. Central Command, shows Donahue by himself boarding a C-17, “ending the U.S. mission in Kabul,” the U.S. Department of Defense tweeted.
As Donahue walks ahead, Hamid Karzai International Airport is seen behind him, the site of recent strife and casualties as thousands of soldiers and Afghan citizens were evacuated ahead of President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops.
“(They) were in fact the last people to step on the ground, step on the airplane,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, The Fayetteville Observer reported.
Donahue was commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan before taking command of the 82nd Airborne Division last year, according to the Army.
Monday, he was joined by Ambassador Ross Wilson on the last plane out of the country, The Fayetteville Observer reported. The plane departed at 11:59 p.m. Aug. 30 Kabul time, McKenzie said, DefenseOne reported.
Several thousand troops from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division were deployed to the Middle East in recent weeks to assist with the withdrawal of troops and evacuations of Americans and Afghan citizens, The News & Observer reported.
Some went to the airport in Kabul, where on Aug. 26, a suicide bomber explosion resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and 170 civilians, The New York Times reported.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, 23, was one of the service members who died. The Special Forces soldier was based at Fort Bragg, according to the Military Times.