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Minerals could shape Afghanistan’s future

Associated Press / June 15, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — It could take years and possibly even a peace settlement for Afghanistan to reap profits from nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources that US geologists say lie beneath its rugged terrain — some in areas currently controlled by Taliban insurgents or warlords.

Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth, but a US Department of Defense briefing this week put a startling price tag on the country’s reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and other prized minerals: at least $908 billion.

If impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, foreign capitals will have another way to convince their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops.

Still, without increased security and massive investment not only to mine but to transport the minerals, it could take years for Afghanistan to bank the rewards. And there is always the potential that such a discovery could bring unintended consequences, including corruption and civil war.

“Obama’s war just became more important and more complicated at the same time,’’ said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who helped advise the administration last year when it was reconsidering its Afghanistan strategy.

Riedel said that if the United States can provide the Afghans security and logistics to build up its mining capacity, Afghanistan’s international stock will suddenly become more valuable.

But there are a host of complications — competing industries and countries, corruption, and war.

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