Afghan Resources Are Meaningless

Top U.S. military and government officials released a groundbreaking report this week showing that Afghanistan may be sitting upon nearly $1 trillion in vital and precious metal reserves. This is a veritable gold mine for the nation, though we found much more than just gold, and according to senior military leadership it may be the first step in creating a stable and modern nation.

If you follow The New York Times, you would have read on June 13 that these “previously unknown” deposits of iron, colbalt, gold, lithium and other minerals could be enough to make Afghanistan into a world-leading mining center. For a nation suffering with staggering unemployment levels and economic stagnation this sounds like a dream come true.

Unfortunately, the age-old truism holds firm here, just as it always does, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true”.

First and foremost, these “unknown resources” have been well known and widely explored for decades. Geologists from around the world have known that Afghanistan had these mineral deposits for more than 30 years. Just across the border in western China there are enormous iron ore mines. It is hardly a leap of faith to assume those underground deposits by-passed the border.

The second point to make is that the story itself is not even breaking news. It is one thing for geological papers to review mineral deposits, it is another entirely for the news to run with a story. But the American media have already run this exact story.

According to, there is perhaps no more useless story in circulation today.

In 2007, when the U.S. Geological Survey published a review of the resources, it was already old news.

Yes, Afghanistan has hundreds of billions of dollars of resources under the bloodstained and cratered earth. What it lacks is any degree of industrial infrastructure. When the Soviets invaded in the 1970s they knew about these resources; that is why they were there. When the British invaded in the mid-1800s they suspected these resources might be there. When the U.S. invaded in 2001 someone in the government surely knew the resources were there.

But occupying powers aren’t going to Afghanistan to build drilling rigs and mining outposts and keep the people employed. They are going to fulfill their own geopolitical concerns. Quite frankly, $1 trillion in resources may sound impressive for the Afghans, but it is inconsequential to the U.S., the U.S.S.R., or the British Empire.

The news media, simply regurgitating the military’s talking points, spoke about $1 trillion of ran a piece optimistically titled “Can Buried Treasure Save Afghanistan?”, as if merely finding the metals somehow equated to a trillion dollar shot in the arm for the most backward economy in the world.

The answer to this begging question is simple. No, it cannot.

Resources are only meaningful if you having the capacity to extract them. If the U.S. suddenly found these resources in Colorado or Montana it would still take us a decade to build the mining and transport infrastructure to make use of it. In Afghanistan the U.S. spends a billion dollars a week blowing things apart, not building them up.

The more likely outcome from this so-called “discovery”, is the pessimistic outlook from Bloomberg Businessweek. If anything, the new coverage given to these resources could encourage the warlords to fight even harder, and fracture the country even further, in their desperate attempt to control the metals beneath their feet.

Meanwhile, the U.S. will be mired even longer in a war it cannot win, in a country that has nothing to offer, fighting a people whose only wish is for the occupiers to simply go home.


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