Is The U.S. Still In Afghanistan Because Of Huge Mineral Reserves?

The U.S. has military forces in Afghanistan, though ground troops (temporarily) left Iraq in 2011.  Why are troops still in Afghanistan?

According to, a 2007 United States Geological Service survey appears to have discovered nearly $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself.

Smith states 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 minerals of Afghanistan, which is nearly the size of Texas, were deposited by the violent collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia over time.  The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began inspecting what mineral resources Afghanistan had after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in the country in 2004. As it turns out, the Afghanistan Geological Survey staff had kept Soviet geological maps and reports up to 50 years old or more that hinted at a geological gold mine.

The USGS learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and prior to that.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment and flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was considered so positive that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using a plane equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were amazing but the results gathered dust for two more years.  In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan.  In 2010, the USGS data attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), which is entrusted with rebuilding Afghanistan.

The Pentagon business development task force also reported the situation to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Pentagon officials said that an analysis at a location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for large lithium deposits – deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.  Lithium is used in batteries to power electronics.

“Afghanistan is a country that is very, very rich in mineral resources,” Jack Medlin, a geologist and program manager of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Afghanistan project, told Live Science.

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