Did a 2007 report of massive mineral deposits in Afghanistan affect President Obama’s 2009 decision to widen the scope of the Afghan war?

Is a recent New York Times article covering up that possibility?

A U.S. Geological Survey has shown that Afghanistan is one of the worlds’ biggest depositories of minerals and precious metals. Include on that list, a lithium find that could be as large as Bolivia’s, now the world’s major source of the rare mineral.

The New York Times reported on Sunday, June 13, 2010 “The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials. 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.”

According to the NYT story, “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 problem is, what the NYT describes as “beyond any previously known reserves” and “the previously unknown deposits”, were in fact quite well known – in 2007, well before President Obama made the fateful decision to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.

One did not need to read an “internal Pentagon memo” to find about the discovery. Just visit the public website of the U.S. Geological Survey and read the press release “Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan Released: 11/13/2007 10:00:00 AM” and you will find the following:  “Afghanistan has significant amounts of undiscovered non-fuel mineral resources according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2007 assessment . . . Estimates for copper and iron ore resources were found to have the most potential for extraction in Afghanistan. Scientists also found indications of abundant deposits of colored stones and gemstones, including emerald, ruby, sapphire, garnet, lapis, kunzite, spinel, tourmaline and peridot. Other examples of mineral resources available for extraction in Afghanistan include gold, mercury, sulfur, chromite, talc-magnesite, potash, graphite and sand and gravel.”

In an interview with USGS’s Stephen Peters published at the same time on the same site, Peters says there are Known deposits of asbestos, mercury, lead, zinc, fluorspar, bauxite, beryllium, and lithium.”

In the NYT story, this is all presented as a recent and pleasant surprise to the Afghan government. According to the NYT, after the USGS survey was completed in 2006 and ’07, “the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments.”

The problem is the USGS results were announced in 2007 at the 3rd annual U.S.-Afghan Business Matchmaking Conference organized by the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

The press release from the USGS included a quote from Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, who said at the time “Afghanistan’s natural resources have a quality comparable to the highest-class minerals of the entire region.”

Why the story broke in the NYT on Sunday could be linked to a desire by the Pentagon to create a reason why U.S. troops might want to stick around in Afghanistan for some time to come. Things are not going very well on the ground and the promise of vast mineral riches would sound enticing.

The Times story includes a quote from Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command who says, “There is stunning potential here.”

The serious question is, Did the knowledge of these massive mineral deposits affect President Obama’s decision to increase troop levels and widen the scale of operations in Afghanistan? Are Canada, the UK and other NATO countries aware of the USGS report?

Has securing this mineral bonanza become the real US/NATO mission in the region?

Relevant links are:

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan – New York Times
Significant Potential for Undiscovered Resources in Afghanistan – USGS
Interview with Stephen Peters of USGS

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.