Were it not for the byline of James Risen, a New York Times reporter currently in a legal battle with the Obama administration over the identity of his sources, a second read of his blockbuster A1 story this morning, U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan, would engender some fairly acute skepticism. For one, a simple Google search identifies any number of previous stories with similar details.
The Bush Administration concluded in 2007 that Afghanistan was potentially sitting on a goldmine of mineral resources and that this fact ought to become a central point of U.S. policy in bolstering the government.
The Soviets knew this in 1985, as a 2002 history of the region's economy shows:
Afghanistan has reserves of a wide variety of nonenergy mineral resources, including iron, chrome, copper, silver, gold barite sulfur, talc, magnesium, mica, marble, and lapis lazuli. By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies. The Afghan government in the mid-1980s was preparing to develop a number of these resources on a large scale with Soviet technical assistance. These efforts were directed primarily at the country's large iron and copper reserves. The iron ore deposits contained an estimated 1.7 billion tons of mixed hematite and magnetite, averaging 62 percent iron. These reserves, among the world's largest, arelocated at Hajji Gak, almost 4,000 meters up in the Hindu Kush, northwest of Kabul in Bamian Province. Development started in 1983, and because the Afghan authorities had put forth no plan to establish an iron and steel industry, the output appeared destined for the Soviet steel mills in Tashkent.
A former senior State Department official said that regular discussions between the U.S. and the Karzai government over how to best exploit the resources for potential future use were ongoing when he was privy to those discussions around 2006.