War on Terrorism

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mineral Resources Could Give Afghans New Hope

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

June 15, 2010 - An estimated $1 trillion of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan could lead to economic sovereignty, easing the country's financial dependency on the United States and international community, a top defense official said yesterday.

In a teleconference from Dubai, Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense and director of Task Force Business and Stability Operations, briefed Pentagon reporters on his group's recent findings and responsibilities.

Afghanistan has significant deposits of copper, iron ore, niobium, cobalt, gold, molybdenum, silver and aluminum, as well as sources of fluorspar, beryllium, lithium and other resources, according to research compiled by Brinkley's task force. Lithium and fossil fuels are not included in the $1 trillion estimate, Brinkley noted.

Brinkley's team is charged with evaluating the state of Afghanistan's economy, and until the mineral assessment began just more than a year ago, Pentagon officials had determined Afghanistan would be unable to pay for its own security, he said.

"The focus of that assessment was to assess the ability, or the long-term viability, of the Afghan economy," Brinkley said. "[There are] well-publicized challenges there in terms of the Afghans being able to finance their own security, their own development.

"When I first visited Afghanistan I did not anticipate there being wealth opportunity there that would enable this kind of development to take place in any term," he added.

Although the new discovery brings much-needed hope to a war-torn Afghanistan, much work remains in harvesting the resources, Brinkley said.

Brinkley explained that it will take time before the minerals will actually affect Afghanistan's economy. Infrastructure, government processes and environmental practices must be in place and transparent before any sort of progress can be made, he said.

"I think it's very important for everybody to recognize that between here and an economically sovereign, sustainable Afghan economy ... is not a quick win," he said. "I mean, this will take time."

The Afghan government is just beginning to understand the type of wealth it possesses and the demand the international community has for its newfound resources, he said.

Also, Brinkley added, the government is just now realizing how the minerals enable Afghanistan to begin the march toward its own economically sovereign capability to finance its population and security needs.

"That is the path that I think is beginning now," he said. "I would describe where we are today is the rapid development of an understanding."

Jack Medlin, a geological specialist on the region with the U.S. Geological Survey International Program, has been working with Afghan mine ministry officials to help them grasp the concept of their new resources.

Afghanistan has about 60 deposits spread across the country, he said, noting that around 20 have great potential to boost the country's economy. Also, at least 70 percent of the country's mineral resources are yet to be identified, Medlin explained, pointing out that his organization only provides the scientific data, not development of the mines.

"The mineral resources of Afghanistan are basically scattered all over the country," Medlin said. "Once we work with them to identify the places and we gather the scientific and technical data necessary for development, then that work is handed off to the Afghan government and the Afghan people basically to develop those resources in an environmentally sound way."

Medlin said the Afghan geologists and engineers over the past five years have proven competent and produce "quality work." However, he added, the current technological state of mining in Afghan is wheelbarrows and shovels.

Afghanistan faces a need to develop a more modern, larger-scale mining culture, he said, and helping the Afghans develop their mining infrastructure as rapidly as possible will be the next step.

"Artisanal mining in that country has gone back centuries, mostly focused on things like gold in various places," he said. "But the country -- what it faces going forward -- is developing a mining culture basically at a very large mine scale. And I guess I fully believe that the Afghans are fully capable of handling that, given some time to develop the expertise."

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