How One Family Fled Afghanistan and Was Reunited in New York City

On Aug. 6, after spending the summer season along with his household in Afghanistan, Mohammad Wali kissed his spouse and three youngsters goodbye, headed to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and boarded a aircraft again to New York City, the place he lives and works.

Days later, the Taliban seized the Afghan capital, and the nation’s authorities crumbled. As 1000’s of determined Afghans tried to flee, the exact same airport Mr. Wali had flown out of days earlier collapsed into chaos.

With his household trapped in an more and more risky nation, Mr. Wali watched the information each evening with a way of numb horror.

“When we heard that news, we didn’t know how they would get out,” Mr. Wali, 55, mentioned in an interview. “How is it possible to get out?”

Thousands of determined Afghans had crowded Kabul's airport gates attempting to flee the nation, and for each household allowed in, numerous extra have been left behind. Adam DeMarco, a member of Allied Airlift 21, a gaggle of veterans working to evacuate Americans and these with household ties to Americans from Afghanistan, mentioned of the roughly 56,000 individuals who had messaged his group, solely about 1,000 had been helped up to now.

“I think about the people who have messaged me that I could do nothing for,” Mr. DeMarco mentioned. “Those are the ones that I remember.”

But Mr. Wali’s household was among the many fortunate ones. Although he and his two older youngsters are U.S. residents, his spouse and youngest little one should not. He couldn’t think about his youngsters making an attempt to scale the airport’s fences to flee, as some others had tried to do, he mentioned.

On Aug. 16, after his household made a number of unsuccessful makes an attempt to enter the airport by U.S. army checkpoints, Mr. Wali reached out to Representative Tom Suozzi, who represents Plainview, the Long Island hamlet the place Mr. Wali lives. Mr. Suozzi’s workplace linked them with Allied Airlift, and 5 days later, the group alerted its U.S. army contacts in Kabul, who helped the household efficiently get previous the airport’s gates.

On Aug. 23, the household flew to Qatar, the place they spent a number of tense days in a lodge room earlier than boarding one other flight, on Sept. 1, to Germany. Mr. Wali was lastly reunited on Friday along with his household at Dulles International Airport in Washington. It was the primary time his spouse and youngsters had ever set foot in America.

Holding an enormous bouquet of flowers and “welcome” balloons, Mr. Wali mentioned he cried as he hugged his spouse, Aishah, 29, and their youngsters, Omar, eight, Zahra, 6, and Yasir, 1. He felt like he was in a dream, he mentioned.

“I would not believe it, to be honest with you,” Mr. Wali mentioned. “You had a dream to be together, and now, thank God, you are together.”

Mr. Wali immigrated to the United States in 1992 and discovered work on the Ariana Afghan Kebob restaurant in Midtown, which he took over in 2002 and nonetheless operates to at the present time. He had begun the laborious means of making use of for citizenship for his spouse in 2018, however when the Afghan authorities collapsed, her software was nonetheless in limbo.

His two older youngsters, nonetheless battling jet lag, accompanied him to the restaurant on Tuesday night. Omar laid his head down on one of many tables and promptly fell asleep.

When the Taliban first took management of Kabul, Mr. Wali thought he would by no means see his household once more, he mentioned. At the suggestion of two of his restaurant’s prospects, he contacted Mr. Suozzi, who reached out to Mr. DeMarco at Allied Airlift to get the ball rolling.

After the Wali household was cleared for evacuation, discovering them in the ocean of 1000’s exterior Kabul’s airport was the subsequent problem. Workers advised Ms. Wali to tie a crimson bandanna to their toddler’s clothes or wave it in the air to assist them stand out. Even then, Mr. DeMarco mentioned, it took about 12 hours to search out them.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Here’s extra on their origin story and their file as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the highest leaders of the Taliban, males who’ve spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is thought about them or how they plan to manipulate, together with whether or not they are going to be as tolerant as they declare to be. One spokesman advised The Times that the group needed to neglect its previous, however that there could be some restrictions.

How did the Taliban achieve management? See how the Taliban retook energy in Afghanistan in a couple of months, and examine how their technique enabled them to take action.

What occurs to the ladies of Afghanistan? The final time the Taliban have been in energy, they barred ladies and women from taking most jobs or going to high school. Afghan ladies have made many positive factors for the reason that Taliban have been toppled, however now they concern that floor could also be misplaced. Taliban officers try to reassure ladies that issues shall be totally different, however there are indicators that, a minimum of in some areas, they’ve begun to reimpose the previous order.

What does their victory imply for terrorist teams? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years in the past in response to terrorism, and many fear that Al Qaeda and different radical teams will once more discover protected haven there. On Aug. 26, lethal explosions exterior Afghanistan’s fundamental airport claimed by the Islamic State demonstrated that terrorists stay a risk.

How will this have an effect on future U.S. coverage in the area? Washington and the Taliban could spend years pulled between cooperation and battle, Some of the important thing points at hand embrace: cooperate in opposition to a mutual enemy, the Islamic State department in the area, referred to as ISIS-Ok, and whether or not the U.S. ought to launch $9.four billion in Afghan authorities forex reserves which can be frozen in the nation.

“It’s a needle in a haystack,” Mr. DeMarco mentioned. “It was just a sea of humanity, and it’s chaotic.”

Compounding the problem was the truth that the American army stored altering the checkpoint gate over safety considerations, Mr. DeMarco mentioned, elevating fears that the household would miss the pickup window. The Walis additionally needed to break the curfew established by the Taliban, as a result of the group hadn’t discovered them by the point it went into impact.

They ultimately needed to abandon Ms. Wali’s brother, Nasir, 19, exterior the gate, as a result of he wasn’t an American citizen; he was evacuated days later with a unique household.

Though Mr. DeMarco was proud and relieved that the Walis escaped, as quickly as they made it into the airport, he needed to shift his focus to a different stranded household.

“We’re still so deep into this, and still working so hard,” Mr. DeMarco mentioned.

Sitting along with his two older youngsters on Wednesday morning in his restaurant, a small brick institution with wealthy woven tapestries lining the partitions, Mr. Wali regarded energetic and comfy as they cut up a plate of doughnuts.

Mr. Suozzi met the Walis in individual for the primary time on Wednesday, after weeks of WhatsApp conversations. After a harrowing few days, listening to the information that the household had safely made contact with U.S. troopers was an enormous reduction for him and his workers, he mentioned.

“I didn’t really relax until they were inside the airport,” he mentioned.

Mr. Wali mentioned the previous few years have been extremely difficult for him: He misplaced most of his enterprise due to the pandemic and endured painfully lengthy durations of separation from his household.

Now, he hopes, normalcy awaits. He’s trying ahead to transferring his household to Plainview and discovering an excellent college for his youngsters, he mentioned. They have to go purchasing for some new garments, and he desires to get pizza with them. And then it’s time to start out planning for his or her future.

“I got another life,” Mr. Wali mentioned.