New photos released on Tuesday night show the final moments of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, as the 82nd Airborne Division departed and America’s longest war came to a close.
The commander of the 82nd Airborne, Major General Christopher Donahue, was the last soldier out – pictured striding onto the last plane out of Kabul on Monday night.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29pm Washington time on Monday, or one minute before midnight in Kabul.
After the final flight, Donahue received a phone call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had watched the final 90 minutes of the military evacuation from a basement operations center in the Pentagon, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
On Tuesday new images showed his troops leaving the country and flying to Kuwait.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division on Monday night prepare to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
The troops are seen in Kabul on Monday shortly before boarding their midnight flight out
The C-17 has been the workhorse of evacuations from Kabul. The U.S. forces oversaw the departure of 116,000 people in two weeks
The soldiers are seen boarding the plane at the end of the evacuation mission from Kabul on Monday
An Air Force loadmaster guides the troops from the 82nd Airborne onto the plane on Monday night
The soldiers from 82nd Airborne are seen getting off the plane in Kuwait after a flight of around four hours
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the troop withdrawal from Kabul that left 13 US service members dead was an ‘extraordinary success’ and blamed Donald Trump and local soldiers for the mess in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover.
A defiant Biden said the operation couldn’t have been done in a ‘more orderly manner’ and ‘respectfully disagreed’ with critics who said he should have started the evacuation sooner to avoid the chaos.
The president also hailed the 116,000 people they have got to safety in ‘one of the biggest airlifts in history’.
Working in coordination with the Air Force, the troops boarded their C-17 to fly from Kabul to Kuwait – a journey of around four hours.
From Kuwait, they will then fly home to North Carolina.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the US troop withdrawal from Kabul was an ‘extraordinary success’ and blamed Donald Trump and local soldiers for the chaos in Afghanistan
Families of the fallen U.S. service members were left disappointed by Joe Biden at the dignified transfer on Sunday. One sister of a fallen Marine yelled at the president: ‘I hope you burn in hell! That was my brother!’
The 82nd Airborne division is able to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours of notification, in its role as the nation’s Immediate Response Force.
As the Taliban advanced in early August, 3,500 to 4,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were sent to Kuwait, where they were put on standby to provide security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul if needed.
The Fort Bragg brigade combat team also headed to Kuwait.
A battalion of about 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division immediately deployed to Kabul.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said the 82nd Airborne Division was in Afghanistan because of its abilities as the Global Response Force.
‘Their job is to be ready to assist in a very expeditious manner, and the task of securing and operating an airfield is actually a unique task that the 82nd can do and Gen. Donahue has experience in that,’ Kirby said.
‘Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division have already been flowing in to do the actual mission of security of (the airport).’
On August 17 Kirby said that Donahue’s focus was the security mission at the airport.
The airport had become a U.S.-controlled island – a last stand in a 20-year war that claimed more than 2,400 American lives.
An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircrew, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, prepares to receive soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, in Kabul airport on Monday night
The lights of Kabul twinkle in the distance as the final plane readied to leave the Afghan capital
Paratroopers keep watch as the final U.S. military plane out of Kabul readies for departure on Monday
A soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division signs a piece of paper in support of the final noncombatant evacuation operation missions on Monday
The stars and stripes hangs in the rear of the plane as the troops begin their journey home
Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne division board the final plane out of Kabul on Monday
Troops are pictured on the C-17 on Monday, flying out of Kabul at the end of the mission
Paratroopers board the final military plane out of Kabul on Monday
Major General Christopher Donahue, 52, was the last soldier to leave Kabul. He boarded the final U.S. Air Force flight out of Afghanistan, at one minute before midnight on Monday
Donahue, 52, has three decades of experience, serving in South Korea and Panama before leading troops in the Middle East and North Africa.
Donahue is currently the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina
A two-star general, Donahue has deployed 17 times in support of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Eastern Europe, according to the Army.
He spent a large amount of his career with the special forces.
Having graduated from West Point in 1992, he returned to academia with a stint at Harvard as a US Army War College Fellow.
He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as special assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon.
He took over as commander of Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division, in North Carolina, in July 2020 and told The Fayetteville Observer that he relished the high tempo of the job.
‘It is absolutely the most enjoyable, rewarding and best job I’ve ever had, hands down,’ he said.
‘I’ve had some pretty cool jobs, but I tell you this is the coolest job ever.’
Before coming to the 82nd, Donahue served as commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, speaks from MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa during a virtual briefing moderated by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Monday
Donahue (center) is pictured with his men on the tarmac in Afghanistan
Donahue said that commanding the 82nd Airborne Division is the ‘coolest’ job of his storied career
Donahue is seen at the change of command ceremony in Fort Bragg in July 2020
Donahue is pictured (far right) in Afghanistan – one of his 17 deployments in 30 years
A CH-47 Chinook from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division is loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III on Saturday as the troops prepared to depart
The closing hours of the evacuation were marked by extraordinary drama.
American troops faced the daunting task of getting final evacuees onto planes while also getting themselves and some of their equipment out, even as they monitored repeated threats – and at least two actual attacks – by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate.
A suicide bombing on August 26 killed 13 American service members and some 169 Afghans.
By the evacuation’s conclusion, well over 116,000 people, mostly Afghans, had been flown to safety.
The XVIII Airborne Corps, whose forces go by the Sky Dragons, were among the last to step off Afghan soil as the total withdrawal of U.S. forces concluded Monday, ahead of the August 31 deadline.
‘In awe of our Sky Dragon Soldiers,’ the XVIII Airborne Corps tweeted along with an nightvision image of Donahue.
The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions of the Army, among others, fall under the command of XVIII 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 corps wrote in its tweet.
It added: ‘Below is a picture of the last Soldier to leave Afghanistan.’
The Pentagon announced an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan on Monday afternoon after 20 years and the deaths of almost 2,500 troops.
President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken look on as as a carry team moves a transfer case with the remains of Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind., during a casualty return at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday
Witnesses in Kabul said the Taliban let off celebratory gunfire as news circulated that the final U.S. flight had left.
It means Biden managed to meet his August 31 deadline and removes American personnel from danger.
But it comes at the cost of letting a militant group retake the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later on the runway of the airport: ‘Congratulations to Afghanistan… this victory belongs to us all.
Mujahid said the Taliban’s victory was a ‘lesson for other invaders’.
Another new photo from Monday shows the final remaining American diplomats in Afghanistan crowded together with Ambassador Ross Wilson carrying the folded American flag before they boarded the US last flight out of Kabul.
Some smiled softly and others looked worn down by the events of the last two weeks. All were dressed in military-style bullet proof vests.
‘My deepest thanks to @USAmbKabul Wilson, Amb. Bass, and the team for their exceptional and courageous service bringing so many to safety. I’m confident their skills and dedication will continue to advance our consular work and diplomacy as a new chapter begins,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter, along with the photo.
The photo was taken at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday.
The diplomats above, including Amb. Ross Wilson, were some of the last to leave Kabul as the embassy closed out of Afghanistan and transferred its mission to Qatar
The US’ last 20 years of occupation in Afghanistan came to an abrupt end on Monday as the last evacuation flight departed Kabul.
The US has now fully shut down its embassy in Kabul and will relocate operations to Doha, Qatar.
Just two weeks ago on Aug. 15, Wilson, along with other embassy personnel, was seen fleeing the embassy in Kabul clutching the American flag that had once flown above it.
‘As of today, we have suspended our diplomatic presence in Kabul, and transferred our operations to Doha, Qatar, which will soon be formally notified to Congress. Given the uncertain security environment and political situation in Afghanistan, it was the prudent step to take,’ Blinken said in an address Monday.
Blinken thanked Wilson for his ‘exceptional job’ and announced that Ian McCary, who has served as our deputy chief of mission in Afghanistan, would lead the operation in Qatar.
‘For the time being, we will use this post in Doha to manage our diplomacy with Afghanistan, including consular affairs, administering humanitarian assistance, and working with allies, partners, and regional and international stakeholders to coordinate our engagement and messaging to the Taliban,’ he said.
Just seconds after the last flight took off at 11.59pm local time, the Taliban overran the airport, boarded stranded planes and footage emerged on social media of fighters examining Chinook helicopters left behind by U.S. troops.
One of the last US Air Force aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 30
Taliban forces flying their flag drive down the runway at Kabul airport in an American Humvee after troops withdrew
Taliban take control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31