Yahoo News points out that more recently, McClatchy Newspapers reported that this last year, Agence France Presse has written about it and Afghan President Hamid Karzai himself has boasted of the nation’s wealth . Afghanistan’s mineral reserves were mapped by the Soviets during their occupation of the country, and more recently by other mining experts. It’s possible that the team of Pentagon officials and American geologists credited with the “discovery” by the Times may have added some detail to existing knowledge on the subject, but it’s hardly the revelation their reports–and the article–suggest.
So could this “revelation” in the Times in fact be an Obama administration PR campaign to buttress U.S. involvement in the troubled war in Afghanistan? For years, we were told of Afghanistan’s potential valuable oil or oil pipeline prospects. When oil faded from the picture there was no economic reason to be there. The place wasn’t like Iraq, where the international oil companies got their hands on a huge oil reserve. But now, with the Times apparently swallowing the Pentagon’s bait, we’ve suddenly got a new reason to fight: Getting our hands on a lucrative mining colony.
James Risen in the Times reports :
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.
Running counter to the claims of a huge discovery is an existing undated report called Minerals in Afghanistan, prepared by the Afghan Minining Ministry jointly with the British Geological Survey and easily obtained on the web. The report has this to say on the subject:
In central Afghanistan occurrences of rare metals have been identified in sediments below several lakes and depressions where lake brines contain higher than average metal concentrations. Trial pits have indicated that salt deposits covered by clay and loam layers contain high concentrations of lithium, boron, lead and zinc.
In a 2006 special edition on Afghanistan of Mining Journal, pre-eminent publication in the field, the mining minister, Hon. Eng. Ibrahim Adel, writes in the introduction:
Mining in Afghanistan has a history dating back over 6,000 years, and despite all the upheavals over the past 25 years, mining has continued to operate. The main task facing us now is to expand the industry from its present small base. The Government regards the development of Afghanistan’s natural resources as the most important driver of economic growth, and essential to the reconstruction and development of the country…For example, construction minerals production has grown dramatically with the increased need for raw materials to feed road building and reconstruction. I expect this will be followed shortly by further investment in the coal, cement and hydrocarbons industries. The first signs of grassroots mineral exploration for gold have started, and with the appointment of Tender Advisors for the future development of the world class Aynak copper deposit, I expect this to lead to really significant investment in the mining sector of the economy in the very near future. Aynak is one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper deposits and it has already attracted interest from a wide spectrum of international companies.
Mining Journal provides an in depth account of the history and potential for mining all sorts of minerals. Here is the Journal‘s overview:
Afghanistan has some of the most complex and varied geology in the world. The oldest rocks are Archean and they are succeeded by rocks from the Proterozoic and every Phanerozoic system up to the present day. The country also has a long and complicated tectonic history, partly related to its position at the western end of the Himalayas.
This diverse geological foundation has resulted in a significant mineral heritage with over 1,400 mineral occurrences recorded to date. Historical mining concentrated mostly on precious stone production, with some of the oldest known mines in the world established in Afghanistan to produce lapis lazuli for the Egyptian Pharaohs.
More recent exploration in the 1960s and 70s resulted in the discovery of significant resources of metallic minerals, including copper, iron and gold, and non-metallic minerals, including halite, talc and mica. The bedrock geology of Afghanistan can be thought of as a jigsaw of crustal blocks separated by fault zones, each with a different geological history and mineral prospectivity. This jigsaw has been put together by a series of tectonic events dating from the Jurassic up to the present.
Among other things, Afghan emeralds are generally considered to be among the most beautiful in the world, rivaling the emeralds produced in Colombia. They were mined and sold in exchange for for arms during the time of the Northern Alliance; the famous Mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud funded his campaign by selling emeralds from the Panjshir Valley. More recently, sources with first hand knowledge of the business have reported that Afghan emeralds were blocked by the Colombian emerald cartel, though there are reports of Afghan emeralds being traded on the sly through Eastern Europe.
Later in the day when questioned by bloggers, Risen went ballistic, alluding to his own high standing, which he pointed out includes a Pulitzer Prize, and reportedly saying—via a twitter account—that the bloggers were sitting around in their pajamas, playing with themselves.
Here is a pissed-off Risen as reported by Yahoo: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/ynews_pl2616:
“‘The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people’s stories,” Risen told Yahoo! News during an increasingly hostile interview, which he called back to apologize for almost immediately after it ended. “Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don’t know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think.” (Risen and fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau shared a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program; this reporter was 33 years old at the time.)
“But no one picked up on [these stories],” Risen said. He explained that he based his report on the work of a Pentagon team led by Paul Brinkley, a deputy undersecretary of defense charged with rebuilding the Afghan economy. Using geological data from the Soviet era and USGS surveys conducted in 2006, Brinkley dispatched teams to Afghanistan last year to search for minerals on the ground. The data they’ve come back with, combined with internal Pentagon assessments that value the deposits at more than $900 billion, constitute news, according to Risen. (Those surveys are still under way, according to a briefing Brinkley gave yesterday.)
“The question is how extensive it was,” Risen said of the survey work. “The value of what Brinkley’s team did was to put together and connect the dots on a lot of information that had been put on the shelf. And they did new research and came up with a lot of new data and put everything together in a more comprehensive way.”
So was the story a Pentagon plant, designed to show the American public a shiny metallic light at the end of the long tunnel that is the Afghan war, as skeptics allege?
Risen said he heard about the Pentagon’s efforts from Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who was active in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The men co-authored a book, “The Main Enemy,” in 2003, and Bearden is now a consultant working with Brinkley’s survey team.
“Several months ago, Milt started telling me about what they were finding,” Risen said. “At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted to do a story on it.”
At first both Bearden and Brinkley resisted, Risen said, but he eventually wore them down. “Milt convinced Brinkley to talk to me,” he said, “and Brinkley convinced other Pentagon officials to go on the record. I think Milt realized that things were going so badly in Afghanistan that people would be willing to talk about this.”
In other words, according to Risen, he wasn’t handed the story in a calculated leak. Calls and emails to Brinkley and to Eric Clark, a Pentagon public relations contractor who works with him, have so far not been returned.
So this wasn’t a plant? You decide.
James Ridgeway, an occasional columnist with ThisCantBeHappening.net, is senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones Magazine. For 30 years he was Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. He has his own blog called Unsilent Generation