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. Pierce

    Sooooo this means they can fight their own war?

    June 14, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pavel Requena

    Ahora comprendo porque EEUU no deja afganistan, ya lo sabian hace mucho y ahora que mensaje daran, de Paz y Explotacion. La vida de esa gente no vale nada sino es ahora por el interes de los minerales recursos que no podra ser explotado por ese gobierno sino por empresas de capitales privados de EEUU que se haran dueño. Porque es tan parecido a lo sucedido con IRAK, ya mataron a SADAM y nada ha cambiado, igual siguen muriendo tanto gente de la OTAN como del pueblo iraqui. Pero lo capitales detras de esta pantalla de libertad y democracia son los que no derraman una sola gota de sangre menos de sudor y lagrimas. Esperemos que un dia cambies EEUU por el bien de la humanidad

    June 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. soon justice in Palestine

    I bet the americans knew long before that Afghanistan was rich in minerals. I hope that Afghan people will fight US invaders to protect their national resources.

    June 14, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |

    We just entered Act III of the war! We all know how it'll play out!

    June 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Andy Anderson

    How nice for them. Now they can buy their own nuclear weapons. I'm sure they'll also pay us back for their freedom. Think it's a mess now, just wait until the lawyers and big business gets involved.

    June 14, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sandcanyongal

    The banksters and gangsters already have their stickey fingers on the country's natural resources. Why is the US surveying their land anyway? Should the military be looking for Bin Laden. It is the reason the military is in the country, right? It's no wonder countries hate us to the core. It belongs to the Afghan people and no one else. Us Americans are way too used to allow our military to support stealing what we want from other countries at gunpoint.

    June 14, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mel

    Expect the US presence to be there MUCH LONGER than indefinitely.

    June 14, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Riza Haider

    Afghan people have no aim to hurt/harm anyone. No matter Muslim or Christian.

    Taliban is From Pakistan.
    Pakistan is disturbing Afghanistan and India and many other countries.
    Pakistan is an Evil country and someone should fix them up to stop promoting terrorists.

    terrorists Root is Pakistan and Pakistani ISI !

    June 14, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Riza Haider

    Afghan people have no aim to hurt/harm anyone. No matter Muslim or Christian.

    Taliban is From Pakistan.
    Pakistan is disturbing Afghanistan and India and many other countries.
    Pakistan is an Evil country and someone should fix them up to stop promoting terrorists.

    terrorists Root is Pakistan and Pakistani ISI !!!

    June 14, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sandcanyongal

    The way I feel about war: Our Commander & Chief, military and Congress that voted to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and continue to support it, should be on the front lines themselves. For 9 years, our young men and women (America's future) have been dying for what? Who gives a crap if the Taliban rule it anyway? Many of the people have lived in war for decades. I have no comprehension of how the people live in that chaos, missiles blowing up, and loss of security in their lives. When I stand back and look at the situation from 5,000 feet, the same warring has continued since man set foot on the ground. Maybe it's normal or an agressive gene or trait of man. I've even thought that men should be banned from holding office for this reason. Women aren't very big on killing and raping and warring. Perhaps it's time for man to take a step forward in our evolutionary future. Man and machine are killing off our ecosystems without a thought about the future generations. When I drive down the hill to Los Angeles, the smog in the city is disgusting. It's unhealthy but people live there for the primo positions. Cities are where the cleanup of the environment should be focused first, like yesterday. Instead there is widening of the freeways to outer communities. It's stimulus money poorly spent if the focus is more vehicles using gas and more smog.

    June 14, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • ish

      Agreed. If we would just stop fighting with the natural flow of evolution it would even out eventually. Call me an idiot if you like, I just wonder if fighting for preservation of life plus dealing with ultimate overpopulation is really the best course of action.

      June 15, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jester

    poor Afghan people, it means they will be american slaves forever. Let this be a lession to all other countries, if you have natural assets "JUST KEEP QUITE"

    June 15, 2010 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. serving

    hey for all of you who are bashing the war... you talk as if you have experienced these countries first hand like some of us. what makes you subject matter experts? you dont know about the corruption that really does go on in these middle eastern countries and all you can do is try to use sodliers dieing as your foundation for your gripes and complaints. always mentioning things like taking advantage of these poor people is BS i have been out in sector and witnessed it first hand, so let me enlighten you for the past year we have dont nothing but aid these people and train there forces to police there own nations and to be honest the ones we have helped in those provinces are grateful and turns out actually like the american soldiers help in some of there problems...we have supplied the hungry with food and the security forces with the means to control the violence so read a little more in depth about what is really going on there instead of listening to some BS stories on the TV or radio before you cast judgment abroad.

    June 15, 2010 at 3:34 am | Report abuse |
  13. BPsux

    I thought we were looking for Bin Laden. Maybe he acted as the scout to lead us there and was allowed to flee. Any crazy theory is possible now. But it's no surprise; it was said that diamonds were involved in Vietnam and oil for all of the Gulf Wars...go figure

    June 15, 2010 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. toronto kevin

    we will now see the" worlds" true colours. The only time "properganda' works is when people believe the b.s. that they are told! the nice thing about "todays world"it.s getting harder and harder to hide your b.s!(iraq.s oil, afghan,s minerals)
    war has been used for cammoflage (profit&pilferage)....the new american motto!

    June 15, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. kevin

    Oh DAMNN.... I think the americans got pwned

    July 14, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
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