Holding a big bouquet of flowers and “welcome” balloons, Mr. Wali said he cried as he hugged his wife, Aishah, 29, and their children, Omar, 8, Zahra, 6, and Yasir, 1. He felt like he was in a dream, he said.
“I would not believe it, to be honest with you,” Mr. Wali said. “You had a dream to be together, and now, thank God, you are together.”
Mr. Wali immigrated to the United States in 1992 and found work at the Ariana Afghan Kebob restaurant in Midtown, which he took over in 2002 and still operates to this day. He had begun the laborious process of applying for citizenship for his wife in 2018, but when the Afghan government collapsed, her application was still in limbo.
His two older children, still battling jet lag, accompanied him to the restaurant on Tuesday evening. Omar laid his head down on one of the tables and promptly fell asleep.
When the Taliban first took control of Kabul, Mr. Wali thought he would never see his family again, he said. At the suggestion of two of his restaurant’s customers, he contacted Mr. Suozzi, who reached out to Mr. DeMarco at Allied Airlift to get the ball rolling.
After the Wali family was cleared for evacuation, finding them in the sea of thousands outside Kabul’s airport was the next challenge. Workers told Ms. Wali to tie a red bandanna to their infant’s clothing or wave it in the air to help them stand out. Even then, Mr. DeMarco said, it took about 12 hours to find them.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
“It’s a needle in a haystack,” Mr. DeMarco said. “It was just a sea of humanity, and it’s chaotic.”
Compounding the difficulty was the fact that the American military kept changing the checkpoint gate over security concerns, Mr. DeMarco said, raising fears that the family would miss the pickup window. The Walis also had to break the curfew established by the Taliban, because the group hadn’t found them by the time it went into effect.