Without a coherent strategy, Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources represent both a lost opportunity and a threat to national security.
Torn by four decades of war and desperate poverty, Afghanistan is believed to be sitting on one of the richest troves of minerals in the world. The value of these resources has been roughly estimated between $1-3 trillion.
Afghanistan has vast reserves of gold, platinum, silver, copper, iron, chromite, lithium, uranium, and aluminium. The country’s high-quality emeralds, rubies, sapphires, turquoise, and lapis lazuli have long charmed the gemstone market. The United States Geological Survey (USGS), through its extensive scientific research of minerals, concluded that Afghanistan may hold 60 million metric tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements (REEs) such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, and veins of aluminium, gold, silver, zinc, mercury, and lithium. According to Pentagon officials, their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large as those of Bolivia, which has the world’s largest known lithium reserves. The USGS estimates the Khanneshin deposits in Helmand province will yield 1.1.-1.4 million metric tons of REEs. Some reports estimate Afghanistan REE resources are among the largest on earth.
REEs have become essential part of modern technology. They are used in cell phones, televisions, hybrid engines, computers, lasers, and batteries. U.S. Congressional findings have called REEs critical to national security. According to a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, Washington has not had a unified strategy for the development of Afghanistan’s extractive industries.