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U.S. Geologists Uncover Staggering $1 Trillion Cache of Unmined Mineral Resources in Afghanistan (Up

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Right now, every mining company CEO in the world has one thing on the mind: Afghanistan.

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that American geologists have discovered an estimated $1 trillion worth of untapped geological resources there, including vast reserves of rare earth metals and lithium, which are becoming increasingly sought-after for high-tech manufacturing. The cache is large enough to have profound geopolitical implications. But judging by the state of play at another remote, developing-world mineral stash—the lithium deposits of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, which I recently visited—it’s not easy to go from desolation to natural-resource riches. Updated.
It's truly a bonanza: Those rare earth metals essential for building motors for hybrid and electric cars that China thought they had cornered? Afghanistan may be sitting on $7.4 billion worth. That’s not counting niobium, another rare and essential metal--the war-torn, deeply impoverished country may have $81.2 billion of the stuff. As for lithium, the essential battery-building mineral that has led so many to suggest that lithium-rich Bolivia may be the center of the world in an age of electric cars—there’s a chance that Afghanistan may have even more. (We have yet to find much detail about what kind of lithium resources we’re looking at—the geologists we’ve contacted haven’t yet responded—but according to the New York Times, an internal Pentagon document said that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium,” a nickname that’s also been applied to Bolivia and Chile in the past couple of years.) Then there’s the big money, the meat-and-potatoes. $420.9 billion worth of iron. $274 billion in copper. $50.8 billion in cobalt.

According to the New York Times, the Afghan treasure hunt began in 2004, when American geologists working on the reconstruction effort found geological charts that the Soviets had assembled in the 1980s, when they occupied the country. Soon they began conducting flyover surveys of 70 percent of the country, using “advanced gravity and measuring equipment” to collect preliminary data. In 2007 they conducted even more detailed aerial measurements, and the numbers were “astonishing.” In October 2007 the USGS published a preliminary assessment of the country’s mineral resources that claimed there were “abundant” resources present. Two and a half years later, those preliminary measures became today’s bombshell news. “There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus , commander of the United States Central Command, told the Times. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.“


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