June 14th, 2010
11:53 AM ET

Report: $1 trillion in untapped minerals found in Afghanistan

Geologists working with the Pentagon have found vast reserves of untapped minerals in Afghanistan that could be worth $1 trillion, the New York Times reports.

U.S. government officials told the Times the discovery could be enough to drastically alter the economy in the war-torn country and perhaps the actual war itself.  The Times cites an internal Pentagon memo, which says the country could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium."

The discovery was heralded by military and government officials in the U.S. and Afghanistan alike.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, told the Times. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The possibility of large amounts of mineral deposits in Afghanistan has been known for a while, but because of constant fighting in Taliban-controlled areas the full extent of the resources haven't been known.

A USGS report and several documents and aerial photos show that attempts to discern the number of deposits and value of minerals have been under way since at least 2006. The 2007 USGS report, which detailed preliminary assessments of the minerals, says previous data on resources were limited to what was produced between 1950 and 1985, but the reserves could not be fully examined because of " the intermittent conflict over the next two decades." (Read preliminary assessment - PDF and the report by the British Geological Survey on the study - PDF)

The Afghan Ministry of Mines says on its website that more research needs to be done to fully understand the economic value of the lithium, beryllium, precious metals and other valuable metals discovered. Other known precious metals in Afghanistan include copper, gold and cobalt. These beginning details, officials said, are what led to a more in-depth study by the U.S. government that resulted in the $1 trillion estimate.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines, told the Times regarding the discovery of $1 trillion in resources.

The Times report has been met with some criticism, based on the timing of the news - in the midst of a critical point in the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan.

"Wow! Talk about a game changer. The story goes on to outline Afghanistan's apparently vast underground resources, which include large copper and iron reserves as well as hitherto undiscovered reserves lithium and other rare minerals," writes Blake Hounshell on Foreign Policy's "Passport" blog. "Don't get me wrong. This could be a great thing for Afghanistan, which certainly deserves a lucky break after the hell it's been through over the last three decades. But I'm (a) skeptical of that $1 trillion figure; (b) skeptical of the timing of this story, given the bad news cycle, and (c) skeptical that Afghanistan can really figure out a way to develop these resources in a useful way. It's also worth noting, as [New York Times writer James] Risen does, that it will take years to get any of this stuff out of the ground, not to mention enormous capital investment."

Wired magazine was blunt with its headline - "No the U.S. Didn't Just 'Discover' a $1T Afghan Motherlode" - for its article outlining similar skepticism. Wired references some of the similar reports from 2006 and 2007.

The Wall Street Journal advises caution when it comes to the Minerals agency in Afghanistan.

It “has long been considered one of the country’s most corrupt government departments,” the WSJ reports.

soundoff (120 Responses)
  1. AspenFreePress

    A trillion bucks ain't real money any more. It won't even cover the U.S. budget deficit for one year.
    Sterling Greenwood/AspenFreePress

    June 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • lintlicker

      I guess our troops will there for awhile along with US contractors to " REBUILD"...

      June 14, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dubyacat

      Soooooooooo glad my country has no minerals, so the 'merricans don't have to give us democricy

      June 14, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      GHADABOF, The CIA should be knocking on your door any minute!

      June 14, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod

      What a surprise. I am so relieved to discover the real reason for the US presence in Afghanistan. We already know that Bush lied to get into Iraq's oil fields, and I was beginning to think that the US was actually pursuing an enemy. The truth is so refreshing.

      June 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave nelson

      Even if it is worth it dont matter to Half dic&s who consider killing innocent humans as their fundamental religious duty for the sake of 72 houries up above

      June 14, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Silverstein

      These resources in addition to the opium ( hey folks 70% of the capital to run the world economy comes from illegal drugs) and the logistics of Afghanistan are the real reason we invaded them while the Wahabists of Saudi Arabia were left unscathed. Face it folks 911 was an inside job, a false flag operation brought to you by the real terrorists within our own govt who are in turn controlled by offshore interests. Al Qaeda as presented to you by the mainstream Media does not exist.

      June 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Silverstein

      I ask people to read Zignews book the Grand Chessboard and draw your own conclusions.
      Zignew and Kissinger are members of the CFR and the Bilderberg Group the visible organization of the Illuminati
      Please investigate what these people are planning for Afghanistan and the rest of us. Please do your own research and do not accept what the mainstream media tells you

      June 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • bailoutsos

      Get troops out of Afghanistan before they have to start protecting Chinese interest with their lives.

      June 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Striker

      So why are we looking for minerals, thought we were there for. . . . .?

      June 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ahmed

      as if invasion was not enough, how dare you eye assets of other country. Or accept the allegation that they invaded afghanistan for minerals. Many believe the finding was done years ago and some excuse or the another was used for invasion. Is it so ?

      June 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • jOHN

      To Rod: Really? So where is this "oil" you speak off? Surely not in my SUV...

      June 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bodiddly

      Yet another reason for people to die.

      June 14, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • P Gibaud

      Let's not get used to the US budget deficit being at current (ridiculous) levels. That there is a path to greater prosperity for Afghanistan that doesn't involve opium is good news by any measure. To think that America will just go and get the minerals for her own profit is so 19th century, and to say that this is the 'real' reason for the war is offensive. Sure, our ability to help Afghans avoid corruption is limited, given that our own Minerals Management Service was corrupt. But who are we to opine that Afghans should not use what they've got to build a better society. It worked for us.

      June 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • sara

      well, let's build a stone age country and make them well off like sadu arabia. THEN, they will have big contributions in building mosques all over of western countries in order to enslave west land set up FAKE SHARIA (law). I believe everyone SHOULD READ THE QURAN AND FOUND OUT THAT MUHAMMAD IS A FAKE AND SELF MADE PROPHET AND HE INVENTED THE FAKE ALLAH> AFTER ALL< (PROPHET) MUHAMMAD WAS BURGLER< PLUNDER< LIER< CHILD F< WOMENIZER. DO NOT TRUST A MUSLIM. READ THE QURAN, BIOGRAPHY OF FAKE PROPHET AND HADITH, THEn YOU WILL UNDERSTAND ME WHAT I MEAN. IAM AN EXMUSLIM FROM MIDDLE EAST. GOOD LUCK WEST.

      July 10, 2010 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    It will give Karzai and his cronies even more to steal.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jennj

    I agree, corruption in Afghanistan is solidly proven in the government official itself..No one could be trusted because each official is solely looking out for his own interest without an equal representation among those poor. I see it everyday, being here....

    June 14, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dawn

    It would be nice if it would make life better for the children over there. I tend to doubt that it will get handled in a responsible way though and if the US gets anything out of it then the next headline will be that we're in the war for the minerals.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Yash Sharma

    the usa admin jus wants to justify the cost of the war that is it... so that the public just breaths a sigh of reliefe that the war may have some profitable return even if the innocent soilders are being killed.. please stop this scam now..

    June 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jennj

    By the way, I forgot! the Trillion $$ that is recently discovered, I would say that-US gov't should be charging them also for the security forces we have provided for them, and all the tax payers income we had invested for this country-meaning; countless $$$ had been invested in afghanistan-but yet I don't see the improvements being here, but I see those gov't officials having more personal body guards and sending their children to study abroad. WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

    June 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • everett

      you are an idiot. We have crippled the Afghani economy for nearly ten years and brought war to their country; and you think that they owe us compensation for "services" we have provided?

      typical american nationalistic arrogance.

      June 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      You can't invade a country, occupy it for a decade, and then once something valuable is found ask for retroactive payment... nice try though. Not to mention its not the Afghan government that attacked the united states, and while security was given, it was done so willingly and without initial request. I guess its time for the international community to start the count down until reports of WMD's begin to surface.

      June 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • aff

      Sweet Dreams....

      June 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cathy

      jenn your right!!! your not the first person that i've hear say that about the body guards. and yes i think we should have a pay check coming along with all the other countries that have fought . If they don't want to pay , let them deal with the taliban themselves.

      June 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joseph K.

    Typical for the U.S. Government.
    Aside from sticking its nose into world affairs where it has no business and pretending to be the "world leader," it uses its "war on terror" to scout for value items. Lets hear the excuse as to how the U.S. Military just "happened" to discover
    a non-combat , non "war on terror" mineral deposit.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Synical Sceptic

    Now let me guess! Haliburton will be awarded the contract to mine this mineral and Blackwater will get the contract to "guard" this resource. The Afghan workers will be paid $2.50/day to dig. Prosperity has arrived!! If the Afghan government thinks that they should own their own resource and Afghan minerals should benifit Afghan people, send in the CIA to do a little "regime change". Hell, worked in Iran in the 50's didn't it?

    June 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ahmed

      you have hit the nail on the head and hit it real hard. Good analysis.

      June 14, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. insane1

    This is terrible news. Natural resources in any small country is like a curse case in point look at Africa and the rest of middle east.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • PDXDad

      insane1, you mean like Botwsana? One of the 3 fastest growing economies in the world after it discovered its vast diamond deposits? Poor African nations have as much corruption as poor nations globally, and rich African nations have just as much corruption as rich nations. Politically we like to say Africa is corruption-ridden because it's an easy excuse to scale back development investment, or ignore the continent all together. If Afghanistan – a landlocked, mountainous country – can develop a good income distribution plan (bring in officials from Botswana to help set it up), stabilize the government, and provide security, this could be a great way for Afghanis to pull a good part of their population out of poverty.

      Sure, a fair bit of "ifs", but it can be successful.

      June 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Megan

    Yet another resource that the United States will be confiscating. It will come to aid OUR economy. Poor poor Afghanistan.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. frank from florida

    One of the problems Afganistan has faced in the last few decades is LACK of any exports other than poppy, which of course is the main ingredient of heroin and opium. This could be gamechanging for Afganistan, because even development of these local resources provides employment for the population. Sure, there will be corruption, but as reagonimics indicates, the trickle down affect, will still provide a huge local stimulas to the economy.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. anonymous

    with all of those resources, the afghan government better start repaying americans for all of the money spent to rebuild their country. the us should take over the entire area.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shamik

      Charge for new buiilding or Rebuilding? What happened to earlier existing infrastructure which was build earlier? How is got distroyed? Who distroyed it?

      June 14, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ahmed

      can anybody other than fox news or US administration list out the rebuilding US has done in Afghanistan ? For all we know, they brought adn are bringing destruction everyday.

      Did not it ever cross average american's brain as to where does the arms adn explosives come from into Afghanistan ? Somebody is manufacturing it, somebody is selling and buying and somebody delivers in teh end in the hands of terrorists (who really are they?). Why not catch the culprit at source and root of the problem instead blaming it blindly on teeanged uneducated youth who perhaps have nothing else to do ?

      June 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dave

    The US government needs to make sure that the money made from royalties is distributed to the locals for schools, hospitals and a infrastructure. Lets hope that the people of Afghanistan know about this and companies that are in the mining industry need to recruit and teach some locals how to drive Catapillar Tractors.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. M.

    Another resource for the US to pillage from a poor country, I bet it will be US companies that get the mining contracts and most of the profits and the corrupt goverment there to squander

    June 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      They may get the mining contracts and sell the equipment to mine the minerals but the people of Afghanistan will get jobs and the royalties will go to build schools and hospitals, 2 things the Taliban wishes to deny the local people.

      June 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. citizenUSA

    Add that in with the opium money and they'll be doing pretty good.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
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