After a “harrowing” two-week evacuation from Afghanistan pressed by their local congressman, a New York family has finally reunited.
When the Taliban took over Kabul last month amid the Biden administration’s chaotic troop withdrawal, Mohammad Wali, an American citizen, did everything he could to get the rest of his family out of the embattled nation.
While two of his children, Omar and Zahra, are American citizens, his wife Aishah and 1-year-old child Yasir are not, making it difficult for the four of them to evacuate on their own.
The week of Aug. 16, Mohammad contacted the office of Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island), who later said the case needed to be made a priority as there were two young American citizens who needed to get out.
Mohammed, who first came to the US in 1992, was in Kabul for two months before traveling back to the US on Aug. 6.
“I did not think anything was happening,” he said.
Throughout the process of helping his family, Mohammed encouraged his wife and kids to keep going to the airport, despite her lack of American citizenship.
“I call her every day, we speak on the phone. She tries two times and fail,” he said. “From the house to the airport, six hours to get through the checkpoints with the children, walking. You can not take a car through. Very dangerous and she can not get through. She went two times and fail.”
“I tell her keep going! She tell me there is no way to get in. If you want to kill us, tell us to keep going. We needed help.”
While on the ground, Aishah warned Mohammad that she could lose the children in the crowds, asking for another way out of the country. As they tried to evacuate, some of the children lost their shoes, Suozzi said told reporters on Wednesday.
After working through multiple on-the-ground channels and the State Department, Souzzi’s office was able to coordinate a plan for the Wali family to get to the Kabul airport.
Amid the chaos, the family was instructed to carry a red bandana in order for officials to easily recognize they were the ones to evacuate.
“This was really dramatic, if you think about it,” Suozzi said. “You have all these people, young children, scary environment, it’s beating heat, you don’t know what’s going to happen…just think about how scary that must have been for these little kids.”
Suozzi’s office described the evacuation as “harrowing.”
The Wali family entered the Kabul airport on Aug. 21, and flew out of Afghanistan to Qatar a few days later, and then to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, before making it to the US last week. The whole evacuation process took about two weeks.
Army National Guard Major Adam DeMarco assisted in the Wali family’s evacuation and told The Post that he came up with the use of the red bandana.
“Yeah, I came up with the red bandana. We’ve been doing things to help the folks on the ground,” DeMarco said. “I’ll ask them, what have you got, anything from a Halloween costume to an umbrella. This time I asked do you have something to put around the baby? And they said we have a red bandana. I said perfect! Tie it around the baby.”
DeMarco has worked alongside a group of West Point graduates to assist their former classmates who were serving as Afghan International cadets.
The group, called Allied Airlift, has ceased tactical missions but helped evacuate about 1,000 people. They are now working on a rescue registry.
“We realized there was a huge need for this and once we got our guys out, we saw the large number of citizens that needed our help,” he said.
On Wednesday, Suozzi met with Mohammad, Omar and Zahra at Ariana, an Afghan restaurant in Manhattan owned by Mohammad. Aishah and Yasir were not in attendance.
The Democratic Representative was all smiles when meeting with the family and thanked his staff, Mohammed and people on the ground in Kabul that assisted in the effort to get the Wali family out.
Last week, the US completed their chaotic full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the initial evacuation efforts to remove American citizens and Afghan allies.
US troops helped evacuate more than 116,000 people from Kabul, as the Taliban took over the country, including 6,000 Americans. However, less than 100 Americans remain in the country.
As efforts to help fleeing Americans continue, the Biden administration has received bipartisan backlash for the delay.
On Monday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) trashed the Biden administration for the delay in evacuating remaining Americans in Afghanistan.
“I have been deeply frustrated, even furious, at our government’s delay & inaction. There will be plenty of time to seek accountability for the inexcusable bureaucratic red tape that stranded so many of our Afghan allies,” the Democrat tweeted.
“I expect the White House & State Department to do everything in their power—absolutely everything—to make this happen,” he added. “These are Americans citizens & Afghans who risked everything for our country. We cannot leave them behind.”
On Monday, the State Department took credit for the evacuation of an American family from Afghanistan, saying it “facilitated the safe departure” of four US citizens from the country. However, Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin told CNN that the claim was “a lie.”
Mullin, who was involved in the initial efforts to evacuate the family, claimed the department originally said it could not assist in the evacuation “in any way.”
“It wasn’t until the second day that we almost had her out that the State Department came in, and when they came in, they did come in to help, I’ll give you that,’ he said. “They showed up a few hours after she got across. For them to say they facilitated, that’s a lie.”