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. dave

    Gee things keep looking rosier and rosier for countries that look at the US as a possible ally. Pakistan stands to benefit. Iraqs economy will grow with more oil production and the ability to sell to the highest bidder. Afghanistan will prosper if they do the right thing. One country that will not prosper is Iran and they will continue to decay as a society with their present "Little Puppet DIctator". The people of these regions are like any other people and only need to be educated and made aware of the truth about the rest of the world.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Nathaniel

    Give me a break! First, an American general talking about mineral resources? What does he know? Then the USGS isn't really involved in real-world mineral exploration-exploitation either. And WHO, besides the Chinese, who have a relatively high tolarance for their people getting killed, are going to dig up the stuff? There might well be a trillion dollars of stuff in the ground, but as the article pointed out, what are the production costs? And then what the article did not point out: are these resources drilled out to international standards, or are these BRE-EX-Busang (Indonesia) resources? And finally, in how may deposits are these resources concentrated, and what are the grades? There are certainly going to be a few good deposits, but most are probably sub-economic. This article is not worth the bytes used to send it!

    June 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. pelicansnout

    They have been watching waayy too much Avatar.

    June 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pelicansnout

    One more thing:

    There are also terawatts of un harnessed solar energy on earth. There are immeasurable amounts of solar energy outside of the earth. Problem is, just like Afghanistan, its how we get to it that ultimately stops us from practical access.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. muckraker

    Gee, and I thought we were there to save the poor Afghans from the mean old Taliban.... That's what's called "geostrategic interests." Nothing to do with the "morality of a virtuous war." Everything to do with imperialistic capitalistic greed.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kamran

    Now fight over $1trillion worth of minerals. Taliban against Karzai, US against Taliban, China against US, India against Pakistan and Iran against everybody. Fight fight and more fight. Come on US now fight like a dog.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |






    June 14, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Done OneHorse

    What's our minerals doing under their mountains?

    June 14, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ranjit

    Oh.. This is the reality version of the Avatar movie ..

    June 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • TooneTown

      You got it! (shaking my head @ my country)

      June 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lance

    Now we know the real reason the US is there. Oil in Iraq and now, a Trillion dollars up for grabs in Afghanistan Coincidence? I don't think so.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Riza Haider

    GHADABOF <== Stupid Pakistani !!!

    Long Live Afghanistan.
    Afghan people have no aim to hurt/harm anyone.

    Taliban is From Pakistan.
    Pakistan is disturbing Afghanistan and India and many other countries.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • imran kadha

      riza shut your mouth or die, pakistan is the life line of you dirty afghans.

      u look like trash and u eat trash

      June 14, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Barbara Reitz

    So I guess the US will now play, let's make a deal with the terrorists. Somehow, we will wheel and deal to get part of the action.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. d.cleveland

    what...you mean it wasn't about the poor little afghan boys flying kites or the little girls being able to go to school.....it was all about natural resources...now isn't that a bloody surprise. The only time the west is interested in bringing democracy to a foriegn land is when the foriegn land holds something of value. Afghanistan was a triple winner...oil, minerals.....and a boogie man named osama to help justify it all!

    June 14, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • john dor

      It all about the oil, amapola, and minerals!!!!!! Old fashion colonialism

      June 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • john dor

      And the excuse is national security

      June 14, 2010 at 2:48 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. Bilderberg is again metting to further their agenda of centralizing control, youu can read these plans in Zignews book the Grand Chessboard its all laid out and hes a major player in CFR and Bilderberg. Coincidence? Conspiracy theory? People please wake up....

      June 14, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Era

    its a really good news i guess............. sure afghanistan is one of country with a high level of minirals and stuff....... so i am really glad that Afghanistan (My country) is going to be reach if they let it..... and sometimes i am not that much hopeful while i am thinking for all these thives around us.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. john dor

    ANd I thought they were looking for Osama Bin Laden?, hes probably some code name for natural resources.

    June 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
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