U.S. discovers $1 trillion Afghan mineral deposits: report

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By Sanjeev Miglani; | June 15, 2010 4:41 AM EST

Afghanistan could be holding $1 trillion of untapped mineral deposits including critical industrial metals such as lithium, the New York Times reported, quoting U.S. government officials.

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The previously unknown deposits of iron, copper, cobalt and gold are so huge that it could transform the impoverished nation into one of the world's important mining centers, the report on the newspaper's website said. (here)

The mineral wealth, discovered by a team of Pentagon officials and U.S. geologists, is scattered throughout the country including in the south and east along the border with Pakistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is the most intense.

"There is stunning potential here," the newspaper quoted General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, as saying in an interview at the weekend. "There are lots of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

An internal Pentagon memo said Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," the New York Times said. Lithium is a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and other electronics such as mobile telephones.

Afghanistan does not have any mining industry or infrastructure, so it will take decades for the country to exploit its mineral wealth fully, the paper quoted U.S. officials as saying.

The report about the country's untapped wealth is likely to intensify competition among regional players such as China, India and even Russia for a greater role in exploiting those resources.

Two Chinese firms have committed themselves to a $4 billion investment in the vast Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul, the biggest non-military foreign investment so far in the country.

Another big contract to mine an estimated 1.8 billion tons of high-quality iron ore in the remote mountainous region of Hajigak is expected to open for international bidding this year.

Firms from India and China are eyeing the contract, which the Afghan mines ministry says is the largest unmined iron deposit in Asia.

According to the U.S. study, the biggest deposits discovered so far are of iron and copper and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer.

Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

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