Mineral Deposits

Afghanistan 'holds $1 trillion in mineral deposits'

Afghanistan has nearly $US1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, far more than previously thought and enough to turn a country devastated by decades of war into one of the most important mining centres in the world, according to senior US officials.

The deposits, which include large veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium are so large they could alter the Afghan economy, American geologists said after discovering the resources.

An internal Pentagon memo says that the country could become the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium', a key industrial metal.

"There is stunning potential here," General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, told The New York Times. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai have been briefed, US officials said.

The devastated country has already emerged as the latest frontier in the rush for mineral resources.

In April, plans were announced to start mining copper in the Aynak valley, soutwest of Kabul, which holds one of the world's biggest untapped copper deposits, estimated to be worth up to $88_billion (£44 billion) – more than double Afghanistan's entire gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007.

In November, a 30-year lease was sold to the China Metallurgical Group for $3 billion, making it the biggest foreign investment and private business venture in Afghanistan's history.

However despite the latest finds, with no mining industry in place it would take decades to develop an infrastructure to exploit the vast mineral reserves which are scattered throughout the country including along the border with Pakistan where some of the most intense fighting has taken place.

But US authorities are hopeful that the scale of the deposits is such that they will attract huge investment regardless.

"This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy," Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines told the newspaper.

(Published by Times Online – June 14, 2010)

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