Yesterday's Times story about the "$1 trillion" in wealth "discovered" in Afghanistan is being called to account from multiple quarters on multiple fronts. Questions of accuracy and timing bounced around the web yesterday as the article racked up the most comments this year. Mining experts and geologists questioned claims that the wealth could be exploited anytime soon. Political observers around the world questioned motives.
Marc Armbinder at The Atlantic:
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.
As was pointed out on the front page yesterday, the idea that there was vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan was known by the government for years. The article was presented, however, as if the United States struck "gold in them thar hills." Kate Drummond at Wired:
But the military (and observers of the military) have known about Afghanistan’s mineral riches for years. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Navy concluded in a 2007 report that “Afghanistan has significant amounts of undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources,” including ”large quantities of accessible iron and copper [and] abundant deposits of colored stones and gemstones, including emerald, ruby [and] sapphire.”
Not to mention that the $1 trillion figure is — at best — a guesstimate. None of the earlier U.S military reports on Afghan’s mineral riches cite that amount.
Keep in mind that the article in question cites the proverbial "internal Pentagon memo" skillfully obtained, apparently. Generals and civilian officials from the Pentagon are willing to be quoted about the memo, with Petraeus saying, "There is stunning potential here." And then, of course, the international bogeyman:
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Thomas Ricks linked to what was perhaps the best rebuttal of the Times article, Blake Hounshell's piece at Foreign Policy:
But I'm (a) skeptical of that $1 trillion figure; (b) skeptical of the timing of this story, given the bad news cycle, and (c) skeptical that Afghanistan can really figure out a way to develop these resources in a useful way. It's also worth noting, as Risen does, that it will take years to get any of this stuff out of the ground, not to mention enormous capital investment.
British Geological Survey economic geologist Antony Benham, who has worked and surveyed in Afghanistan for years, says "Of course, the security situation has made it very difficult for any mining company to get involved, and so there's not really any mining industry at present-and very little infrastructure, either."
If only they had security, right?
Now for my obligatory quote:
But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
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