by Michel Chossudovsky
June 17, 2010
The 2001 bombing and invasion of Afghanistan has been presented to World
public opinion as a "Just War", a war directed against the Taliban and Al
Qaeda, a war to eliminate "Islamic terrorism" and instate Western style
The economic dimensions of the "Global War on Terrorism" (GWOT) are rarely
mentioned. The post 9/11 "counter-terrorism campaign" has served to
obfuscate the real objectives of the US-NATO war.
The war on Afghanistan is part of a profit driven agenda: a war of economic
conquest and plunder, "a resource war".
While Afghanistan is acknowledged as a strategic hub in Central Asia,
bordering on the former Soviet Union, China and Iran, at the crossroads of
pipeline routes and major oil and gas reserves, its huge mineral wealth as
well as its untapped natural gas reserves have remained, until June 2010,
totally unknown to the American public.
According to a joint report by the Pentagon, the US Geological Survey (USGS)
and USAID, Afghanistan is now said to possess "previously unknown" and
untapped mineral reserves, estimated authoritatively to be of the order of
one trillion dollars.
(New York Times,
U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in
Afghanistan - NYTimes.com, June 14, 2010, See also BBC, 14 June 2010).
"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... “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
an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.
(New York Times, op. cit.)
Afghanistan could become, according to The New York Times "the Saudi Arabia
"Lithium is an increasingly vital resource, used in batteries
for everything from mobile phones to laptops and key to the future of the
At present Chile, Australia, China and Argentina are the main
suppliers of lithium to the world market.
Bolivia and Chile are the
countries with the largest known reserves of lithium.
"The Pentagon has been
conducting ground surveys in western Afghanistan. Pentagon officials said
that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni province showed the
potential for lithium deposits as large as those of Bolivia"
Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan - NYTimes.com, June 14, 2010,
Lithium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
"Previously Unknown Deposits" of Minerals in Afghanistan
The Pentagon's near one trillion dollar "estimate" of previously "unknown
deposits" is a useful smokescreen.
The Pentagon one trillion dollar figure
is more a trumped up number rather than an estimate:
“We took a look at what
we knew to be there, and asked what would it be worth now in terms of
today’s dollars. The trillion dollar figure seemed to be newsworthy.”
Sunday Times, London, June 15 2010)
Moreover, the results of a US Geological Survey study (quoted in the
Pentagon memo) on Afghanistan's mineral wealth were revealed three years
back, at a 2007 Conference organized by the Afghan-American Chamber of
The matter of Afghanistan's mineral riches, however, was not
considered newsworthy at the time.
The US Administration's acknowledgment that it first took cognizance of
Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth following the release of the USGS 2007
report is an obvious red herring. Afghanistan's mineral wealth and energy
resources (including natural gas) were known to both America's business
elites and the US government prior to the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1988).
Geological surveys conducted by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early
1980s confirm the existence of vast reserves of copper (among the largest in
Eurasia), iron, high grade chrome ore, uranium, beryl, barite, lead, zinc,
fluorspar, bauxite, lithium, tantalum, emeralds, gold and
silver. (Afghanistan, Mining Annual Review, The Mining Journal, June, 1984).
These surveys suggest that the actual value of these reserves could indeed
be substantially larger than the one trillion dollars "estimate" intimated
by the Pentagon-USCG-USAID study.
More recently, in a 2002 report, the Kremlin confirmed what was already
"It's no secret that Afghanistan possesses rich reserves, in
particular of copper at the Aynak deposit, iron ore in Khojagek, uranium,
polymetalic ore, oil and gas".
(RIA Novosti, January 6, 2002)
"Afghanistan has never been anyone's colony - no foreigner had ever "dug"
here before the 1950s.
The Hindu Kush mountains, stretching, together with
their foothills, over a vast area in Afghanistan, are where the minerals
lie. Over the past 40 years, several dozen deposits have been discovered in
Afghanistan, and most of these discoveries were sensational. They were kept
secret, however, but even so certain facts have recently become known.
It turns out that Afghanistan possesses reserves of nonferrous and ferrous
metals and precious stones, and, if exploited, they would possibly be able
to cover even the earnings from the drug industry. The copper deposit in
Aynak in the southern Afghan Helmand Province is said to be the largest in
the Eurasian continent, and its location (40 km from Kabul) makes it cheap
The iron ore deposit at Hajigak in the central Bamian Province
yields ore of an extraordinarily high quality, the reserves of which are
estimated to be 500 million tonnes. A coal deposit has also been discovered not far
Afghanistan is spoken of as a transit country for oil and gas. However, only
a very few people know that Soviet specialists discovered huge gas reserves
there in the 1960s and built the first gas pipeline in the country to supply
gas to Uzbekistan. At that time, the Soviet Union used to receive 2.5
cubic meters of Afghan gas annually. During the same period, large deposits
of gold, fluorite, barytes and marble onyxes that have a very rare pattern
However, the pegmatite fields discovered to the east of Kabul are a real
sensation. Rubies, beryllium, emeralds and kunzites and hiddenites that
cannot be found anywhere else - the deposits of these precious stones
stretch for hundreds of kilometers. Also, the rocks containing the rare
metals beryllium, thorium, lithium and tantalum are of strategic importance
(they are used in air and spacecraft construction).
The war is worth waging...
(Olga Borisova, "Afghanistan - the Emerald
Country", Karavan, Almaty, original Russian, translated by BBC News
Services, Apr 26, 2002. p. 10)
While public opinion was fed images of a war torn resourceless developing
country, the realities are otherwise: Afghanistan is a rich country as
confirmed by Soviet era geological surveys.
The issue of "previously unknown deposits" sustains a falsehood. It excludes
Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth as a justifiable casus belli. It says that
the Pentagon only recently became aware that Afghanistan was among the
World's most wealthy mineral economies, comparable to The Democratic
Republic of the Congo or former Zaire of the Mobutu era.
geopolitical reports were known.
During the Cold War, all this information
was known in minute detail:
...Extensive Soviet exploration produced superb geological maps and reports
that listed more than 1,400 mineral outcroppings, along with about 70
commercially viable deposits...
The Soviet Union subsequently committed
more than $650 million for resource exploration and development in
Afghanistan, with proposed projects including an oil refinery capable of
producing a half-million tons per annum, as well as a smelting complex for
the Ainak deposit that was to have produced 1.5 million tons of copper per
In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal a subsequent World Bank analysis
projected that the Ainak copper production alone could eventually capture as
much as 2 percent of the annual world market.
The country is also blessed
with massive coal deposits, one of which, the Hajigak iron deposit, in the
Hindu Kush mountain range west of Kabul, is assessed as one of the largest
high-grade deposits in the world.
(John C. K. Daly,
Analysis: Afghanistan's untapped energy, UPI Energy, October 24, 2008)
Afghanistan is a land bridge.
The 2001 U.S. led invasion and occupation of
Afghanistan has been analyzed by critics of US foreign policy as a means to
securing control over the strategic trans-Afghan transport corridor which
links the Caspian sea basin to the Arabian sea.
Several trans-Afghan oil and gas pipeline projects have been contemplated
including the planned $8.0 billion
TAPI pipeline project (Turkmenistan,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) of 1900 km., which would transport Turkmen
natural gas across Afghanistan in what is described as a "crucial transit
corridor". (See Gary Olson,
Afghanistan has never been the 'good and necessary' war; it's about control
of oil, The Morning Call, October 1, 2009).
Military escalation under the extended Af-Pak war bears a
relationship to TAPI. Turkmenistan possesses third largest natural gas
reserves after Russia and Iran. Strategic control over the transport routes
out of Turkmenistan have been part of Washington's agenda since the collapse
of the Soviet union in 1991.
What was rarely contemplated in pipeline geopolitics, however, is that
Afghanistan is not only adjacent to countries which are rich in oil and
natural gas (e.g. Turkmenistan), it also possesses within its territory
sizeable untapped reserves of natural gas, coal and oil.
Soviet estimates of
the 1970s placed,
"Afghanistan's 'explored' (proved plus probable) gas
reserves at about 5 trillion cubic feet. The Hodja-Gugerdag's initial
reserves were placed at slightly more than 2 tcf."
(See, The Soviet Union to
retain influence in Afghanistan, Oil & Gas Journal, May 2, 1988)
The US. Energy Information Administration (EIA) acknowledged in 2008 that
Afghanistan's natural gas reserves are "substantial":
"As northern Afghanistan is a 'southward extension of Central Asia's highly
prolific, natural gas-prone Amu Darya Basin,' Afghanistan 'has proven,
probable and possible natural gas reserves of about 5 trillion cubic feet.'
(UPI, John C.K. Daly,
Analysis: Afghanistan's untapped energy, October 24,
From the outset of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979, Washington's objective has
been to sustain a geopolitical foothold in Central Asia.
The Golden Crescent
America's covert war, namely its support to the Mujahideen "Freedom
fighters" (aka Al Qaeda) was also geared towards the development of the
Golden Crescent trade in opiates, which was used by US intelligence to fund
the insurgency directed against the Soviets.1
Instated at the outset of the Soviet-Afghan war and protected by the CIA,
the drug trade developed over the years into a highly lucrative multibillion
undertaking. It was the cornerstone of America's covert war in the 1980s.
Today, under US-NATO military occupation, the drug trade generates cash
earnings in Western markets in excess of $200 billion dollars a year.
America's War on Terrorism, and,
Heroin is "Good for Your Health":
Occupation Forces support Afghan Narcotics Trade, April 29,
Towards an Economy of Plunder
The US media, in chorus, has upheld the "recent discovery" of Afghanistan's
mineral wealth as "a solution" to the development of the country's war torn
economy as well as a means to eliminating poverty. The 2001 US-NATO invasion
and occupation has set the stage for their appropriation by Western mining
and energy conglomerates.
The war on Afghanistan is a profit driven "resource war".
Under US and allied occupation, this mineral wealth is slated to be
plundered, once the country has been pacified, by a handful of multinational
According to Olga Borisova, writing in the months
following the October 2001 invasion, the US-led,
"war on terrorism [will be
transformed] into a colonial policy of influencing a fabulously wealthy
(Borisova, op cit).
Part of the US-NATO agenda is also to eventually take possession of
Afghanistan's reserves of natural gas, as well as prevent the development of
competing Russian, Iranian and Chinese energy interests in Afghanistan.
1. The Golden Crescent trade in opiates
constitutes, at present, the centerpiece of Afghanistan's export
economy. The heroin trade, instated at the outset of the Soviet-Afghan
war in 1979 and protected by the CIA, generates cash earnings in Western
markets in excess of $200 billion dollars a year. Since the 2001
invasion, narcotics production in Afghanistan has increased more than 35
times. In 2009, opium production stood at 6900 tons, compared to less
than 200 tons in 2001.
In this regard, the multibillion dollar earnings
resulting from the Afghan opium production largely occur outside
Afghanistan. According to United Nations data, the revenues of the drug
trade accruing to the local economy are of the order of 2-3 billion
annually. In contrast with the Worldwide sales of heroin resulting from
the trade in Afghan opiates, in excess of $200 billion. (See Michel
Chossudovsky, America's War on Terrorism", Global Research, Montreal,
2. Olga Borisova, "Afghanistan - the Emerald
Country," Karavan [Kazakhstan] [April 26, 2002], available in English as
"Afghan Mineral Wealth Will Turn Anti-terror War into Colonialism -
Kazakh Paper," Hoover's OnLine [April 28, 2002]. Almost 15 years ago,
emeralds of very high quality were found in Afghanistan. A carat of
unpolished Afghan emerald fetches over $300 in the West, and up to 10
carats of emerald can be washed out of one cubic meter of rock.
The mining of emeralds is carried out by
small wok groups of men, who sell to dealers in the valley villages like
Khenj, Safitchir, etc.. The mines are often located at over 4000 meters
[over 13,000 feet]. For details, see Joel Donnet, "Les emeraudes de la
survie du Panshir" [septembre 1999] and Lucian Kim, "Afghanistan's
Emerald Heights. The Gem-Studded Mountains Are a Pot of Gold for
Anti-Taliban Forces," Christian Science Monitor [July 2000].