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War Propaganda? What Happened to the “1 Trillion Dollar Mineral Deposit in Afghanistan” Story?

Presented by The New York Times as a major event, a potential turning point in the Afghanistan War, the story has virtually disappeared from the news.  Was it a mirage?

Some say the story was war propaganda:

Reading this week’s New York Times headline — “U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan” — many probably wondered how this information was being presented as “news” in 2010. After all, humanity has long been aware of the country’s vast natural resources. As Mother Jones magazine’s James Ridgeway said after recalling past public accounts of the ore deposits, “This ‘discovery’ in fact is ancient history tracing back to the times of Marco Polo.”…

… Now, under President Obama, we get leaked Pentagon memos cheerily promising that Afghanistan will become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” and generals touting the minerals’ “stunning potential” — the implication being that America is morally obligated to exploit such potential through armed occupation.

The Guardian reports that the mineral deposit is worth 3 trillion, not just a paltry 1 trillion:

Afghanistan‘s untapped mineral wealth is worth at least $3tn – triple a US estimate made this week – according to the government’s top mining official. 

They also suggest war propaganda:

Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals, but a US briefing this week put a startling$1tn price tag on the reserves. Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said today that he had seen geological assessments and industry estimates that the minerals were worth at least $3tn.Critics of the war questioned why the country’s mineral wealth was being promoted at a time when violence was on the rise and the international coalition was under pressure to prove its counterinsurgency strategy was working. US officials argued that if Afghanistan was seen to have a bright economic future, it could help convince people that securing the country was worth the fight. It could also give Afghans hope, they said.

Reportedly, Afghan President Karzai gave “priority” to Japan to develop the minerals:

During an appearance at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, Karzai focused on his country’s mineral deposits. He pointed to Japan’s status as Afghanistan’s second-biggest donor, and reasoned that Japan should enjoy special access to Afghan resources with estimated values that range from $1-3 trillion dollars.  “Morally, Afghanistan should give access as a priority to those countries that have helped Afghanistan massively in the past few years,” Karzai told the institute.  “What . . . we have to reciprocate with is this opportunity of mineral resources, that we must return at the goodwill of the Japanese people by giving Japan priority to come and explore and extract,” Karzai said.

If it’s U.S. war propaganda, then the Canadian press has bought into it, too.  Note the tone of this Montreal Gazette piece on “Golden Opportunities”:

A landlocked country the size of Manitoba or Texas, with nothing but rocks to fight over, turns out to be a treasure house of minerals. The initial conservative estimate is that Afghanistan has $420 billion of iron deposits, $275 billion of copper, $50 billion of cobalt, and $25 billion of gold. If the $3 trillion estimate proves out, there could be more than $1.2 trillion of iron alone, more than the size of the initial estimate and nearly equivalent to the GDP of Canada, one of the richest countries in the world. And our wealth derives precisely from our abundance of natural resources -including the very minerals discovered in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is rich. Who knew? Well, it seems the Soviets had some inkling during their occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, and U.S. geologists stumbled across some of their charts and data, but have only recently put all the pieces of the mineral deposits together…

Who knew, indeed?  The story seems suspicious, and considering that not much more has been reported on the topic from the U.S. government, it could very well be a piece of war propaganda designed to bolster U.S. business and ordinary citizen support for the war that never seems to end. 

How could the Soviets, whos spent 10 years fighting in Afghanistan, not know about this?  This could be read as post-Cold War anti-Soviet propaganda: the USSR was too dumb to know they were sitting on 1-3 trillion dollars worth of minerals.  Does this sound right to you?  The USSR government was many things, but stupid is not one of them. 

For a good history on the “mineral deposit riches in Afghanistan” story, see The Atlantic :

…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…

The way in which the story was presented — with on-the-record quotations from the Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, no less — and the weird promotion of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to Undersecretary of Defense suggest a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war.

The Obama administration and the military know that a page-one, throat-clearing New York Times story will get instant worldwide attention. The story is accurate, but the news is not that new; let’s think a bit harder about the context.

True story, truly war propaganda.

2 comments to War Propaganda? What Happened to the “1 Trillion Dollar Mineral Deposit in Afghanistan” Story?