For more than a year, Jawid wondered if he would ever reunite with his wife. Originally from Afghanistan, the former interpreter worked with the United States Army before earning his U.S. citizenship. Jawid moved to the states with a plan for his wife, Farzana, to join him once her visa process was complete. Their plan, however, was shattered on August 15, 2021, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Farzana, like thousands of other Afghanistan citizens, was unable to evacuate, and because of her husband’s connection with the U.S. Army, she was in danger of Taliban retaliation.
“Day and night, I was thinking about how to get my family out of Afghanistan,” Jawid recalled. “My wife was always asking me, ‘Did you find a solution?’”
After the Taliban takeover, Jawid sought help from Operation Recovery, a U.S.-based nonprofit with a mission to safely evacuate at-risk Afghan citizens. Farzana was one of more than 7,500 applicants on Operation Recovery’s evacuation list. As the nonprofit assembled the tools it needed to coordinate with family members and potential evacuees—as well as volunteers known as shepherds—they realized that communication was a huge challenge due to the sheer volume and elevated risk of putting people in danger.
“Since the Taliban controls the internet, email is not a reliable way to communicate. They actually use the network to track down people they’re searching for,” said Jon Collette, president and CEO of Operation Recovery. “We needed secure communications.”
To do this, Operation Recovery looked to Amazon Web Services (AWS) Wickr. AWS Wickr is an end-to-end encrypted service that allows secure one-to-one and group messaging, voice and video calling, file sharing, screen sharing, and location sharing. With Wickr, encryption takes place locally on the client endpoint. Every call, message, and file is encrypted with a new random key, and remains indecipherable in transit; only the intended recipients and the customer organization (not even AWS) can decrypt each transmission.
“Part of Wickr's mission is to improve the world through privacy,” said Chris Lalonde, AWS Wickr software development director. “The kind of encryption that we use is three layers deep and is impenetrable by modern computer systems, even the most sophisticated computer systems that exist today.”
AWS Wickr serves a diverse set of customers, allowing businesses and public sector organizations to communicate more securely while also meeting auditing and regulatory requirements. Financial service organizations use Wickr to maintain data retention requirements and secure chain of custody, while safeguarding sensitive IP and intelligence. In addition, enterprises use Wickr to help bolster out-of-band communication during an incident and eradicate the use of shadow IT within their organizations.
Wickr teamed up with consulting firm, UNCOMN, to develop a solution that would integrate Operation Recovery’s existing case management system and provide end-to-end encrypted communication for shepherds and evacuees. To further improve efficiencies and streamline workflow, the solution also includes a bot to answer frequently asked questions surrounding evacuees’ case statuses. This gives shepherds the ability to query information from Operation Recovery’s systems at any time, without requiring human intervention.
So far, Operation Recovery has used its AWS Wickr solution to coordinate the evacuation of nearly 4,000 at-risk Afghan citizens, including Farzana. After three years apart, she was finally reunited with Jawid in the U.S., where the couple is building a new life.
“We are together and have our best life,” said Jawid.
In addition to the continued coordination of evacuations, Operation Recovery and its partners are providing humanitarian aid to individuals across Afghanistan in an effort to help as many people as possible find safety.
Learn more about Operation Recovery's mission and initiatives.