Meh story about $1 Trillion in Minerals in Afghanistan

The report that geologists have found $1 trillion in mineral wealth in Afghanistan is less important than it seems..

That Afghanistan has minerals is not in fact news. But none of the sort of research that would be necessary to place a value on them has been done, so no one actually knows what they are worth of if they are worth anything after expenses.

Then, for a country of 34 million, it isn’t that much money even if the minerals could easily be extracted and actually exist in the imagined quantities. If you mined $100 billion a year, that would be a lower middle class income for the country, but only for 10 years. And, then back to grinding poverty.

In contrast, the nominal gross domestic product of the United States is on the order of $14 trillion, year after year.

It is silly to say that $1 trillion in hard-to-mine minerals in a landlocked Afghanistan make it like Saudi Arabia. The latter has 267 billion barrels of petroleum that is fairly easy to get at and to export, which at today’s prices is worth over $18 trillion. Not to mention its natural gas.

The US will likely end up spending $1 trillion destroying things in Afghanistan.

So even if the whole benefit of the minerals went to the US, it would be in the hole.


See also The Atlantic and

11 Responses

  1. It’s not the US who will benefit from the minerals its corporations that are sure to develop those minerals. And while $1 trillion might not mean much to a country of 34 million. A company of a couple thousand owned by a couple of rich white men with untold greed and corruption could sure benefit from that $1 trillion.

  2. Depends on what the minerals are. If they provide a source for rare earth metals, needed for modern devices, then the story is about US sapping them up.

  3. This is extremely interesting. When I first read about the trillion dollars worth of mineral deposits in Afghanistan I was very happy for the Afghans. After a day or two I started wondering if this was an honest appraisal of the minerals, or some political ploy, like a justification for the invasion and ongoing war in Afghanistan. After reading the above article I have to surmise the latter.

  4. What interests me about the valuation of Afghanistan’s mineral deposits is the timing of the announcement and the fact that General Petraeus was involved. The report follows close on the heels of the London School Of Economics report that publicized Pakistan’s continued support for the Taliban in Afghanistan just as the Kandahar offensive is getting underway. The revelation of the fact that Pakistan has been playing both ends against the middle in Afghanistan is likely to erode support for the occupation by reminding the American public once more how complicated and difficult the task of nation building in South Asia really is. As you may recall, General Petraeus contended in his famous Counter Insurgency Manual that it was a failure of the will of the American people that caused us to give up on Vietnam. My guess is Petraeus is trying to put some iron — and some gold and lithium — into our spines.

  5. “Hype”

    Not just hype, by well-timed hype. Notice the recent back-peddling on MacChrystal’s expectations for the upcoming Kandahar offensive, the escalation of corruption indications and the recent dis-jirga.


  6. “Whatever you think you know, it’s worse than you can imagine.”

    Here’s what the stuff that makes up the human limbic system, and all the more apparent “systems” of “economics” and “politics” and “The Art of War” and “progress” and “growth” and “comparative religions” and “family, tribe, sept, clan, nation and all that.” Which both breed, and crush, those worthy manifestations (we all agree) of altruism, kindness, loyalty, love and faith. And the best we can do, from our fixed and firmly held positions, here in the back of the Cave, is let ourselves be led by the nose or ear or eyelash or dick into little backwaters where the shadows are even deeper and more misleading and more perverted from the Ideals that we are too afraid, and stupid, intentionally stupid and ignorant, clutching our ignorance like a shield and a club, to see in all their shining parts.

    Seven billion humans, almost all trying to be the Ubermensch, the Top Gun, the Top Dog, the Big Cheese, without a prayer of figuring out how to come together, and with uncanny genius at breaking things and tearing them apart. Weapons. It’s what we know, what we do.

    Good luck, folks.

  7. To followup on the comments made here, the time and agenda of this ‘revelation’ is indeed intriguing.

    Because stories about the existence of such mineral riches in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been in circulation for quite sometime. Paul Jay, for one, argues that the US knew about mineral riches at least from 2007. He writes:

    “One did not need to read an “internal Pentagon memo” to find about the discovery. Just visit the public website of the U.S. Geological Survey and read the press release “Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan Released: 11/13/2007 10:00:00 AM”…

    In an interview with USGS’s Stephen Peters published at the same time on the same site, Peters says there are “Known deposits of asbestos, mercury, lead, zinc, fluorspar, bauxite, beryllium, and lithium.”

    In the NYT story, this is all presented as a recent and pleasant surprise to the Afghan government. According to the NYT, after the USGS survey was completed in 2006 and ’07, “the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments.”

    The problem is the USGS results were announced in 2007 at the 3rd annual U.S.-Afghan Business Matchmaking Conference organized by the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

    The press release from the USGS included a quote from Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, who said at the time “Afghanistan’s natural resources have a quality comparable to the highest-class minerals of the entire region.”

    Why the story broke in the NYT on Sunday could be linked to a desire by the Pentagon to create a reason why U.S. troops might want to stick around in Afghanistan for some time to come. Things are not going very well on the ground and the promise of vast mineral riches would sound enticing.

    The Times story includes a quote from Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command who says, “There is stunning potential here.”

    The serious question is, Did the knowledge of these massive mineral deposits affect President Obama’s decision to increase troop levels and widen the scale of operations in Afghanistan? Are Canada, the UK and other NATO countries aware of the USGS report?

    Has securing this mineral bonanza become the real US/NATO mission in the region?”

    link to

  8. .
    The next major announcement from General Petraeus:
    “If the US public will just stay the course, within 12 years we can put together a deal and build a pipeline to carry gas and oil from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, thereby denying Iran any possible benefit from transporting the same gas and oil through their territory.”

    This, after all, is the pipeline deal that Texas oilmen tried to negotiate with the Taliban in Houston in the Summer of 2001. When those negotiations fell through and the Taliban went home, within weeks some Saudi dissidents attacked NYC on 9/11, and the response was to attack not Saudi Arabia but Afghanistan.

  9. Mexico was rich in oil for a while. The wealth disappeared in a vortex of corruption. The peso got overvalued. The president, Lopez Portillo, fled to Spain with a couple billion US dollars after his six-year term of office was up. Just before he left, he devalued the peso. Sudden wealth was a curse for poor Mexico.

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