U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
By JAMES RISEN
Published: June 13, 2010 sWASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.
While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.
“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.
“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.
American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.
So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.
Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.
The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.
Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.
“No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces,” observed Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. “The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Mr. Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”
With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. “They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan.”
The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.
2. Iran is preparing to send a flotilla to Gaza as they play poker on the highest possible stake preparing for an all in game which could become an all in game for the entire world.
Iranian Ships Prepare To Set Sail For Gaza Strip
Even as the UN is formalizing its response to Iran, the Persian Gulf country is preparing to set sail three ships with aid for the Gaza Strip, AFP reported earlier and was cited by the Jerusalem Post. The ships are only awaiting for final permission from the Iranian Foreign Ministry, without regard for Israel's potential retaliation should Iranian ships approach Israel territorial waters. And with over 100,000 Iranians having volunteered to sail onboard, this will unlikely be diffused with mere diplomacy. At least some of the escalation rhetoric this weekend was slightly moderated after Haaretz refuted an earlier report by the Times of London that Saudi Arabia has opened up an air corridor for an Israel strike is false: "Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi envoy to the U.K. speaking to the London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, denied that report, saying such a move "would be against the policy adopted and followed by the Kingdom." As for the Iranian overture, the piece de resistance is that Iran will also send a plane to Egypt, carrying 30 tons of medical aid, and forcing the involvement of even more third party actors who would certainly prefer to be impartial in this very unstable time. Once again, Gulf (the other Gulf) tensions are escalating, and there seems nothing on the horizon to set anyone's mind at ease. But somehow headlines about the return of the global recovery are once again making the rounds.
From the Jerusalem Post:
The Iranian Red Crescent has equipped and loaded two ships with aid, and is waiting for permission from the Iranian Foreign Ministry to set sail for Gaza, AFP reported on Sunday. A third ship is planned for next week.
An Iranian Red Crescent official, Mojtaba Majd, was quoted as saying that over 100,000 Iranians have volunteered to sail on the ships. He said that the problems involved may prevent Iran from sending volunteers, however "the important issue is that the people of Gaza know that more than 100,000 Iranians are ready to come to their help."
One of the ships, which is carrying food and medicine is expected to leave this week. The Red Crescent has promised to send two ships by Friday and a third next week.
A plane is also planned to fly to Egypt carrying 30 tons of medical aid.
The Iranian decision to send ships to Gaza, follows the international outrage over the Israeli commando raid on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was part of a flotilla seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
An Iranian Red Crescent ship was sent to Gaza during 'Operation Cast Lead' but was turned back by Israeli warships.
Elsewhere, Israel appears also very close to worsening its diplomatic relationship with long-term ally Germany, after NPR reported that an alleged Israel spy believed to be related to a Hamas leader killing in Dubai earlier this year, using the name Uri Brodsky, has been arrested in Poland. "Brodsky was arrested in early June upon his arrival in Poland because of a European arrest warrant issued by Germany which is now seeking his extradition, the spokesman said, declining to be named in line with department policy."
The German news weekly Der Spiegel reported that the arrest in Poland already has led to some diplomatic friction. The Israeli Embassy has urged Polish authorities not to extradite Brodsky, the magazine reports in its issue to be published Monday.
Germany's Foreign Ministry had no comment on the case and referred to an ongoing judicial investigation by the federal prosecutor's office. The country's top investigating unit deals with all cases affecting internal or external security, including terrorism or espionage.
After a German passport was used by a person linked to the Dubai slaying, the prosecutor's office in February started investigating a possible connection to a foreign intelligence agency.
Authorities in the western city of Cologne had issued a passport to a man named Michael Bodenheimer. A man using that name was among the assassins who killed the Hamas operative, according to Dubai police.
In February, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged a thorough investigation and said German authorities would do everything possible to support their counterparts in the UAE.
If Brodsky's extradition goes through, however, it could put the government in Berlin — a staunch Israeli ally — in a difficult diplomatic position.