WASHINGTON -- A team of U.S. geologists and Pentagon officials has discovered vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan, conceivably enough to turn the scarred and impoverished country into one of the world's most lucrative mining centers, The New York Times reports.
"There is stunning potential here," Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told the paper in a report published today . "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."
Americans discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals such as lithium, according to the report. The Times quoted a Pentagon memo as saying Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," a raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and cell phones.
The report said the U.S. Geological Survey began aerial surveys of Afghanistan's mineral resources in 2006, using data that had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Promising results led to a more sophisticated study the next year.
Then last year, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq arrived in Afghanistan and analyzed the geologists' findings. U.S. mining experts were brought in to validate the survey's conclusions, and U.S. and Afghan officials were briefed.
The biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, but finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, and rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan, the report said.