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June 13, 2010

Like Congo Without the Humidity

Holy crap, what horrible news for Afghanistan:

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.

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 Blackberries.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 13, 2010 10:48 PM

Great...all this means is that we are the advance guard for the Chinese mining industry. They're the only ones who are going to make money out of this.

Posted by: seth at June 13, 2010 11:36 PM

I remember shortly after that thing that happened in the later months of 2001, there were ads on TV about how if you buy drugs you're "supporting terror." They weren't very specific about what drugs, but they were certain that all drugs came from Afghanistan and supported Al Qaeliban or whatever.

Now, are we going to be told that iPads support terror?

Posted by: ethan at June 14, 2010 12:02 AM

Afghanistan's obituary from the sound of it. By the way Israel discovered a large supply of natural gas off the coast of Gaza.

Posted by: Rob Payne at June 14, 2010 12:31 AM

Previously unknown, my ass.

Posted by: Jack Crow at June 14, 2010 12:44 AM

Oh boy, NOW WE will be the leaders in batteries to support the new alternative energy. ALL WE gotta do IS git that lithium. (or as Firesign Theatre sez

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 01:03 AM

> as Firesign Theatre sez

... they took to us,
and we took to them.
And what did we take ?

Oil from Canada
Gold from Mexico
Geese from the neighbor's back yard (boom boom)
Corn from the Indians
Tobacco from the Indians
Dakota from the Indians
New Jersey from the Indians
New Hampshire from the Indians
New England from the Indians

Posted by: joel hanes at June 14, 2010 03:40 AM

what jack crow said.

as for ethan - may i remind you that lithium is a popular element of antidepressants... drugs still support the war on terror

Posted by: almostinfamous at June 14, 2010 04:57 AM

No blood for lithium. It may be less catchy, but I hope all the nice liberals, er progressives, who hated the Iraq war will remember how angry they were way back when.

Posted by: grimmy at June 14, 2010 04:59 AM

As the Firesign Theatre also said, "THIS is the future. You got to live it, or live WITH it."

Who knows if it's good or bad?

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 14, 2010 07:47 AM

The Chinese are already in place working in their mines while US military keeps the perimeter safe.

This is the vig on the trillions of dollars of debt they hold: that we have to do guard duty for them.

Posted by: seth at June 14, 2010 08:10 AM

Oh God. This is terrible news for the Afghans, terrible news, terrible news. Now our quasi-pointless terrible war just got a very horrible profitable point, and the world will continue to fuck over afghanistan as it uses it for something else, again and again.

I stopped reading the NYT article when it said some bullshit about worrying that the taliban will fight harder now that there is this. like that isn't/wasn't our "freedom bringing" plan.

Then I went back and started again and stopped somewhere in the middle of endless American concerns about what the afghans will do with THEIR OWN minerals, and how many chances there are for them to screw everything up with THEIR OWN minerals. yeah right. thanks for your no doubt very sincere concern.

Posted by: jeff at June 14, 2010 08:31 AM

no blood for hybrids!

Posted by: hapa at June 14, 2010 09:22 AM

I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

Posted by: the narrator at June 14, 2010 09:25 AM

I can't wait till some new Kurtz arises out of all this. The horror, the horror.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at June 14, 2010 10:48 AM

And we found this out just now? Sure, right.

Posted by: Maezeppa at June 14, 2010 11:13 AM

Originally reported 1 Feb 2010 at

Remember, comrades, Iraq's oil revenue alone has paid for the entire war, rebuilding the country, and raising from the dead a million grateful natives.

Posted by: Coomaraswamy at June 14, 2010 11:17 AM

ok, hapa takes first place for inspired genius

(a lot of these minerals are used in high tech stuff, so we could also say 'no blood for blogging')

jack crow is right this is no surprise, but they admit that, though with a typical human interest angle about the history of the maps. Anything but discuss possible unsavory motives for why those predators are wacking so many people.

I had no idea it's possible to scan for mineral deposits from high altitude. How about from space? Bladerunner or Avatar here we come.

Posted by: N E at June 14, 2010 11:23 AM

What a well-timed godsend!

Just as the US Establishment had just about run completely out of "reasons to be bringing feardom to Afghanistan", anonymous US officials became willing to discuss with James Risen this amazing "new" treasure trove of really cool minerals that will obviously require US "support and guidance" for years to come to help the innocent, naive Afghans exploit properly. Can't trust that "resource hungry China" to have Hamid Karzai's best interests at heart like the resource-sated United States does. Yada yada yada....

Whew! That was a close one.

Posted by: Steve in L.A. at June 14, 2010 12:10 PM


No! We paid for the Iraq war. Somebody else gets the oil revenue, and they share a little of it with their favorite politicians so that we have to pay for everything else too.

But I get your point.

Posted by: N E at June 14, 2010 12:39 PM

"Welcome to the future, where you are 'up against the wall(mutherfucker)' of science."

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 01:07 PM

I just hope We borrowed enough from the Chinese to where WE are partners instead of lender and slave.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 01:10 PM

This is probably something NASA has known for a long time. I'm sure that when the first sattelite with a camera, opened its peeper and looked down on Planet Earth, that ole NASA Scientist thought, "GOLD!!!"

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 01:18 PM

Thanks NE for leading me to read the whole article. I too am surprised about what it's now possible to do from the air!

But, even better, I read this sentence:

"Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel...."

This statement is so dumb it hurts; like the best the Times can do for technical knowledge is a ninth grader and a terminal connected to wikipedia.

It's useful to be reminded of why I gave up reading the NYT periodically.

(BTW, niobium is hard, not soft, and while it is both a component of steel and a superconductor, there's no such thing as superconducting steel.)

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at June 14, 2010 01:20 PM

like the best the Times can do for technical knowledge is a ninth grader and a terminal connected to wikipedia

I'm afraid that's actually the case. Except the ninth grader's only in Mondays and Wednesdays.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 14, 2010 01:38 PM

Mike Meyer,

A very apt quote from Firesign Theater. But recall, to complete the thought, right after the the laundry list of pilfered goods, the section continued with the sound of an explosion, and an exemplary W.C.Fields voice intoned, "Ah, yes, Veterans Day." 'Cause that's where this is ultimately heading for our farmboys, inner city kids... and now Guardsmen! The Roman legionnaires used to be required to sign on for a long enlistment, something like 15 years. We haven't quite gotten there yet, but with Stop Loss, we're working on it. The American Way of Life being non-negotiable and all, Resource Wars, here we come.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the President of the United States IS named Schickelgruber.

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at June 14, 2010 01:52 PM

I am just beginning to wonder if this "War on Terror" has been a big hoax all along and in reality, we are dropping bombs to recover the untapped mineral deposits ( human lives are irrelevant when it comes to the riches!?! ) just like our govt "Drilled for Oil" with NUKES!!! No, seriously.....

"'Drilling' for oil with ... nuclear weapons? The US has done it.
Here's something you might not know: The US once used nuclear weapons not to stop flows of petroleum (as was suggested for capping the BP oil spill), but to start them."


Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 02:35 PM

Rupa Shah: I've read articles in Mechanic's Illustrated from the 50's discussing mining and drilling with nukes. Now I see they did it. Those crazy physicists, what a wild bunch of guys, eh?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 02:59 PM

I am just beginning to wonder if this "War on Terror" has been a big hoax all along

next, you'll be wondering what really happened on 9/11

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 14, 2010 03:33 PM

"and Indonesia for the Indonesians!"
(and Veteran's Day!)

Had to make sure we got the context correct there.

I'm both amazed and unaccountably pleased to find that I share with all you guys share the same Firesign historical perspective.

Posted by: steve the artguy at June 14, 2010 03:49 PM

@mistah charley, ph.d

"next, you'll be wondering what really happened on 9/11"

First, let me clarify what I wrote. I did not mean hoax in the sense of a joke but "to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false " as defined by MW dictionary. I meant, it was being used as a pretext and I thought my stating the "dropping" of bombs would clarify it but I guess not. After all English is my second language and I have always invited commenters to correct my English. So if I was misunderstood, I take the responsibility.

Regarding my wondering about what really happened on 9/11, I absolutely do. Not only about what really happened but how ( I do not mean the planes hitting the bldgs but the planning ) and by whom. Till today, my govt has not given me satisfactory answers so till I have them, I will always wonder.

ps I hope, we will not switch the subject and go back to the discussion of 9/11 as there is never going to be a consensus as to what happened, who was responsible, what the physicists say etc etc.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 04:07 PM

@Rupa - That's a good catch, drilling with nukes. Project Plowshare isn't remembered very widely. I love a different program, however, which is even less remembered.

At around the same time, there was an effort to develop atomic powered (wait for it....)


I do not kid. I learned about it when I worked at Bechtel Bettis, which had formerly been a division of Westinghouse.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at June 14, 2010 04:21 PM

Aaron Datesman: Put a little love in your heart(with a 50,000 year half-life).

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 05:00 PM

@ Aaron
Yes, there still are some patients walking around with nuclear pacemakers ( with plutonium...half life 80+ yrs as you know ) and the idea was to implant the device for a life time. Nuclear powered pacemakers are not being used anymore and now, believe it or not, they have LITHIUM batteries which last 6-10 yrs and they do not fail suddenly ( as used to happen in the past ) but impending failure can be detected at routine office visit and the unit can be changed!

ps Medtronic and Cordis Corp were the leading makers of nuclear pacemakers. And for those interested, after a patient dies with the nuclear pacemaker, the whole unit is sent to Los Alamos National Lab for disposal.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 05:04 PM

mistah charley phd and Rupa Shah:

You guys quit teasing me. Of course it was a pretext. But if you don't look out you'll get angry, or worse disturbed, which will make it easy for people to conclude taht you are crazy. So quit thinking those foolish thoughts while there is still time and keep fighting for justice and beauty. (Not truth, that one is too far gone.)

By the way, Edwin Teller and the military and the AEC loved nukes. They wanted to use them to build harbors and canals and for mining and probably for making jello too if they could. This was called Operation Plowshare. The natural gas explosions were part of it.

For a fascinating article on the beginnings of it, see Dan O'neill, Project Chariot: How Alaska Escaped Nuclear Excavation, Dec 1989 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Posted by: N E at June 14, 2010 05:04 PM

@Mike Meyer
Plutonium-238 was used for pacemakers which has half life of 88 yrs.......

Other isotopes....
* Pu-239, fissile (half-life 24,000 years, alpha decay)
* Pu-240, fertile (half-life 6,560 years, alpha decay)
* Pu-241, fissile (half-life 14.4 years, beta decay)
* Pu-242, (half-life 374,000 years, alpha decay)

ps I guess, you are a scientist so this info may be redundant for you.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 05:24 PM

Rupa Shah: Motorcycle mechanic actually, but THANK YOU anyway.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 14, 2010 05:34 PM

Why are we in Afghanistan and Central Asia generally? Listen to the military itself, but the analyses immediately preceding the involvement rather than the PR after the fact.

When at the Jamestown Foundation, a right-wing outfit that Cheney was on the board of for many years, an analyst named Stephen Blank published a report entitled U.S. Military Engagement with Transcaucasia and Central Asia. He thoroughly covered the situation in the region as it existed just before Bush/Cheney took office in June 2000.

Russian dominance of the Transcaspian and Central Asia went back at least two centuries before Yeltsin stupidly relinquished it as part of the dissolution of the USSR. The Russians had preserved their empire against Napoleon and Hitler, but Yeltson had let it slip away, much to the dismay of the Russian President who succeeded him and who was in power 2000, Vladamir Putin. The 1998 US National Security Strategy stated: “The United States will not allow a hostile power to dominate any region of critical importance to our interests.” The Transcaspian and Central Asia was and is such a region of critical importance in the eyes of the military. The US did not intend to let the Russians regain dominance of it. But how to stop that, since geographically they had an enormous advantage, historically a precedent, and leadership determined to restore it to their sphere of influence?

As Blank wrote: "We would be deluding ourselves if we thought that internal conditions within these regions, plus their geopolitical contexts, make for smooth sailing for the next generation. We would also be deluding ourselves if we thought that Moscow will soon share the U.S. objective that it is only interested in a “win-win” situation in the CIS."

The bold in the passages on page 26 is noteworthy because Blank concedes that Russia would regain dominance of the region as things stood at that time. With that, the US would fail to meet its governing National Security strategy. This is no small matter to the high priests of National Security.

Because National Security analysts are cold-blooded, they don't discuss human suffering too much, and discussion of that isn't in the report.

Posted by: N E at June 14, 2010 05:57 PM

@Mike Meyer 05:34 PM
Frankly, I do not see a difference between your work and mine. You keep the motorbikes functioning and I TRY to keep the patients' bodies functioning normally. Most of the times we succeed and there are times, nothing will fix a problem!
Now, if anyone says otherwise, is itching for a fight!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 08:07 PM

Sure, living in today's modern world of The Future is a lot like having bees live in your head; but there they are. And as the young lady said:

"I say, live it or live with it!"

What does this mean ?

Well, for the straight poop, let's go where I go every day: down six flights, and barely a strones thow from The Tomb of the Unregistered Voter, in the basement of the historic Old Grid Building ...

Posted by: The Hon. Chester A. Catherwood. at June 14, 2010 08:25 PM

An interesting story about the "trillion dollar" story!
"Say what? Afghanistan has $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources?"

And Risen was interviewed on PBS Newshour and apparently the soviets already had the geological charts before the war and Afghan officials kept them for safe keeping!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 10:04 PM

An update has been added just a few minutes ago to the above story...

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 14, 2010 10:09 PM

What's so bad about atomic batteries in pacemakers? Just to be clear, none of them are using chain reactions to run; they just use normal radioactive decay to generate a tiny amount of current, probably beta decay which is reasonably innocuous and can be easily contained.

Posted by: saurabh at June 15, 2010 12:31 PM

I think the rather more hopeful comparison would be to Bolivia.

I bet that with aerial surveys over just about any spot in the world of that size you could find $1 trillion in minerals. That doesn't mean that any of the minerals can be profitably extracted -- to do that you need roads, miners, royalties rules, all kinds of things that won't exist in Afghanistan for years. (And yes, I was just writing about South America's biggest undeveloped gold deposit, here. Big deposits don't mean big development.) Afghanistan isn't uniquely rich, it's just not uniquely poor.

Lithium is totally overrated. It's unlikely that world lithium battery production is going to surge. And "Saudi Arabia of lithium" is exactly the sort of line you expect from a propaganda agent -- it has no meaning. It's the same thing they've been saying about Bolivia and Peru for years.

Posted by: setty at June 15, 2010 02:00 PM

@Rupa - thanks for that information! Actually at Bettis we talked about this idea like it was one of those crazy things they tried in the past back when the organization was run by people who actually tried stuff. I had no idea that nuclear pacemakers had ever really been deployed.

@saurabh - oh, you're right, of course! But it's my belief that most nuclear applications (like, for instance, Plowshare) represent a solution going in search of a problem. We have nuclear this and nuclear that only because they serve to justify nuclear weapons, which we have and of which the National Security State will not let go.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at June 15, 2010 04:10 PM

Seth said:

"The Chinese are already in place working in their mines while US military keeps the perimeter safe.

This is the vig on the trillions of dollars of debt they hold: that we have to do guard duty for them."

I never get this kind of comment. The Chinese are being repaid in USD and only USD. They bought the bonds with USD. If they don't roll the debt into more T-Bonds, they'll just have piles of USD getting zero return. BFD.

There is no problem for the US to repay unless they start issuing debt not denominated in USD. If the USG starts doing that, those responsible should be hanged for treason. Of course, nearly everyone is so ignorant of economics that hardly anyone will take notice.

Posted by: Jeff65 at June 17, 2010 08:03 AM


I promise that I'm still going to read Mosler sometime, and for me this sort of economics isn't easy, but I believe not rolling new debt into more T-bonds just reduces the demand for the dollar, there causing a drop in its value, which reduces the value of the massive pile of dollars the Chinese hold as well as gives them a lower return on the present value of the stream of future payments when converted into yuans. So the net effect could indeed be negative, but it wouldn't necessarily mean they would be getting no return.

Other countries actually prefer dollar-denominated debt when they think the dollar is going to decline in value relative to their currency. In fact, that seems to be happening at the moment because Germany and Greece are issuing bonds denominated in dollars instead of Euros. For the same reason we could decide to issue bonds in another currency, though I doubt we will because we can't directly control the value of another currency like we can our own.

So I wouldn't call it treason for someone in the US to agree to issue bonds denominated in another currency, but no one in the US will do it if they have a choice because we would lose control. The reason we don't have to ever do it is simple: We're the sheriff. That's one of the perks of being powerful, maybe the biggest one. Economists tend to focus on theory and say it doesn't really matter what currency oil is traded in, for example, but I think they would be wiser to be more empirical and modify hypotheses as necessary to explain observable results. If it didn't matter, we wouldn't react so aggressively when somebody suggests that they'd like to sell oil in Euros or yuan.

Michael Hudson's books Super Imperialism and Global Fracture are way, way, way ahead of me on this. Mistah Charley, ph.d. pointed me to them, which was really nice of him.

Posted by: N E at June 17, 2010 05:52 PM