Pentagon scientists have discovered an estimated $1 trillion in undeveloped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, a finding significant enough to fundamentally change the Afghan economy and alter the course of the war in the country, according to senior U.S. officials.
The deposits include iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium, a key material in the manufacture of electric car batteries and other high-tech devices. According to an internal Pentagon memo, Afghanistan's reserves could make it the "Saudi Arabia of lithium."
Afghan government leaders including President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed on the discovery, officials said.
"There is stunning potential here," said Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."
Mining could transform the battered Afghan economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking. The gross domestic product in the country of 28 million is about $12 billion.
Development of the minerals could lead the Taliban to redouble its efforts to regain control of the country, as well as prompt widespread corruption and battles between oligarchs, some officials worry. Afghanistan's mining minister was replaced last year after U.S. officials accused him of taking a $30 million bribe in exchange for giving China the rights to a copper mine.
"The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?" said Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business. "No one knows how this will work" (James Risen, New York Times, June 13). -- GN