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. Gene

    For those of you who have wondered why US troops are in Afghanistan here's your answer. According to a new CNN report there is over a trillion yes trillion $ of mineral. This "discovery" was made public by Geologist at the Pentagon. You didn't really think were there to help the people of Afghanistan did you? It's all about money & GW knew all the time.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synical Sceptic

      Of course! Might even be able to get his oil pipeline run through there now too.

      June 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      What you don't think that the standard of living will improve because of these discoveries? By the way who is GW?

      June 14, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Nick

    Sounds like there is enough lithium to keep the entire U.S. population drugged up for life. Wonder when the pharmaceutical companies will get in on this cash-cow?

    June 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You're right, Nick. It's not like lithium is used for anything else. At least regarding you.
      How about Lithium Ion batteries? There are hundreds of uses for lithium beyond your drug of choice!

      June 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sebastian

    Why the US are looking for treasures in Afghanistan??

    June 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aamir

      because that's what they do!!

      June 20, 2010 at 2:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Rich

    Does this mean they will repay some of the cost of thier freedom? I doubt it!

    June 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MIKE

    YES BUT IS IT EASIER TO GET AT THAN GROWING POPPIES?

    June 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dave

    It depends on weather the US companies that might get contracts there pay their taxes in the US. In the future when they need to loosen some ore with explosives they can just strap some on a Taliban terrorist and let him do the job.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rikardo

      I am not sure is it this luck or unluck for Afghan people.

      June 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Steve

    It's been LONG known that Afghanistan is rich with mineral resources. It has now been more completely quantified.
    Afghanistan also has large troves of precious and semi-precious stones.
    Both have one problem in common: Delivery to market.
    Delivery to market is problematic now, as in the past, due to local "warlords" in the entire path wanting a cut for passing through their territory.
    THAT is a problem that will take decades to clean up at best, as it's literally thousands of years old.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      So the Americans invaded iraq for its oil and have invaded afghanistan for its rich minerals and its drugs!!! American mothers now you know why you are sacrificing your young sons and daughters!!! Is it worth it to sacrifice so many young american lives to satisfy the greed of a few???

      June 15, 2010 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
  8. Perdidomike

    I guess this will now be the 100 year Afghan War on Terror.
    The unknown, unseen hand of the mining interests and their lobbyists will be pouring $$$ into K Street to make sure we stay now.
    A country with a $12 Billion a year narco-economy with riches like these will need investment, technology to extract, process and transport the minerals. Now where do you think that expertise will come from?
    The assertion Afghanistan will be the "Saudi Arabia" of Lithium, is not a happy one. Saudi Arabia for all its riches is still corrupt, deprives more than half its citizen's of basic human rights while creating billionaires who lead double lives the pious muslim at home, the trendy, hedonist abroad.
    Given the situation at present in the country, that might seem attractive to the Afghanis though.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    Unbelievable how stupid people are on here. It's really sad to see that some of you really believe the world works this ways. This is a positive discovery for the country that hasnt been explored in this way before. But instead you all act like morons and find ways to poke at the US. I would love to see you or your wives and girlfriends live under the Taliban regime...

    June 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synical Sceptic

      Are you and dave
      going steady?

      June 14, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Dear SS: Like I said before maybe you should think of investing in the future (Mining) or a KFC franchise in Afghanistan instead of being so negative.

      June 14, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kambiz

    I am very happy to hear this new, finally our poor but beautiful country have raised up. I hope they handle this properly and professionally. Keep Karzai and his brothers out of this, involve Dr. Abdullah and some other intelligent Afghan veterans to rebuild this poor and hurt country and it's people. Our people deserves to be honored a peaceful and healthier living. May god help us this time.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Although I do not pray. I do hope that your wishes do come true and Afghanistan can look at this news as a launching pad for a better future for its people. As far as Karzai is concerned lets hope he changes his ways and plans a better future for all the people and not just his relatives and criminal friends if he does change his ways maybe he can go down in history with a more favorable view from the people, otherwise his days are numbered. I hope that the people of Afghanistan remember that the US helped them defend themselves from the USSR and left Afghanistan when the war was over and only returned to retrieve the cowardice terrorist that hid in Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11. Sure companies in the US will prosper but so will Afghanistan and once it becomes more stabilized then more varied businesses will enter your country. As much as people ridicule the Saudis and UAE they at least know the importance of a stable country, and know that the word of the US is much more valuable than that of Osama Bin Ladin. That explains why the US is allowed in Saudi Arabia but Bin Ladin isn't.

      June 14, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dave

    Ask yourself several questions. If you were a Taliban terrorist would you want to go on risking your life for the cause of some lunatic tribal leader from which you receive no money and live a life of poverty or would you be willing to lay down your guns and learn how to drive a dump truck and live a peaceful fruitful life and offer your children a way life you never dreamed of with an education and proper health care, no more living in mud huts and caves, all the water that is directed to poppy farms can now be converted for agricultural needs, and with all that money you could even build a dam or two to insure a constant water supply ? As far as getting the product to market I'm sure Pakistan would be willing to cooperate because of the new railway and port they could build that would employ thousands of people.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synical Sceptic

      I have 2 questions.
      1. Is this what the
      Afghans want?
      2. Who do you work
      for? CAT,Bechtel......

      June 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      No but my mothers uncle used to be the CEO of Bechtel and was a friend of the Saudi Royal family, he died about 15 years ago. If relations improve and Afghans decide to change their future from harboring terrorist to mining may I suggest you buy stock in some companies that deal in mining.

      June 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Me

      You're assuming that someone willing to strap a bomb to themselves and die for a bunch of ghostly virgins is rational. I argue that they are not.

      June 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • serving

      first off synical your an idiot. second i have to agree that the insurgents are most likely not willing to lay down there guns to just hop on board, but at the same time many are actually compensated for there work ( I.E not the radical suicide bombers) and do so only because they have no other means of income thats steady and guaranteed. But however if they were to have a creditable paycheck they could rely on then i do believe that they would choose the path that is less likely to get them killed. The only way to do so is to being more stable jobs to there regions and let them know that american soldiers and the american government is there to help them stabilize not just to combat there bad seeds

      June 15, 2010 at 3:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. stuck in kandahar

    Dammit..we've been here for 10 years, and it looks like we're gonna be here for 10 more.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nate

    This could be good or bad – it depends how it's handled and who handles it. Either way, the situation in Afghanistan is about to get really interesting. If the development of these resources is truly left in the hands of Afghans, with proper support, then I think it will benefit the country and the region in the long run. If it's handled only by corrupt Afghan leaders and questionable foreign players, like the World Bank, IMF, etc – then I don't think it will turn out as well. Personally, I hope the former happens. We don't need to create another Saudi Arabia.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dave Rowe

    I just returned from an 8 month tour with the Canadian Forces, in Kandahar. I brought back a book, called Afghanistan and it's Inhabitants, translated by Henry Priestley, originally compiled by Mansoor Bokhari. The first edition was in 1996. It talks about the huge unexploited wealth of minerals in the country, and that they've just never been accessed due to generations of wars. Sorry CNN, but this isn't any sort of scoop. Until there's some semblance of Peace, and Security, all the wealth in the ground won't make the slightest difference to the people of Afghanistan.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. GeorgeD

    The Chinese will find a way to develop these resources while the Americans watch in disgust. But, at least there is a bright spot in the future of Afghanistan.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
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