Tag Archives: Afghanistan

The Pentagon’s Afghan Mineral Hype

This morning’s New York Times includes a story headlined, “US Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan.’’ In fact the country’s  mineral wealth has been known for centuries. Records of it date back to the time of Marco Polo. Mineral stories were mapped by the Soviets during their occupation of the country, and more recently by other mining experts. While it’s possible that the team of Pentagon officials and American geologists credited with the “discovery” may have added some detail to existing knowledge on the subject, it’s hardly the revelation their reports–and the article–suggest.

So could this “revelation” in fact be an Obama administration PR campaign to buttress U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan? For years, we were told of Afghanistan’s potential valuable oil prospects. When oil faded from the picture there was no economic reason to be there. The place wasn’t like Iraq, where the international oil companies got their hands on a huge oil reserve. But now, with the Times apparently swallowing the Pentagon’s bait, we’ve suddenly got a new reason to fight: Getting our hands on a lucrative mining colony. James Risen in the Times reports : 

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

Running counter to the claims of a huge discovery is an existing undated  report called Minerals in Afghanistan, prepared by the Afghan minining ministry  jointly with the British Geological Survey and easily obtained on the web. The report has  this to say on the subject:

In central Afghanistan occurrences of rare metals have been identified in sediments below several lakes and depressions where lake brines contain higher than average metal concentrations. Trial pits have indicated that salt deposits covered by clay and loam layers contain high concentrations of lithium, boron, lead and zinc.

In a 2006 special edition on Afghanistan of Mining Journal, pre-eminent publication in the field, the mining minister, Hon.Eng. Ibrahim Adel, writes in the introduction,

It is a privilege for me to draw your attention to this Mining Journal special supplement on Afghanistan. Mining in Afghanistan has a history dating back over 6,000 years, and despite all the upheavals over the past 25 years, mining has continued to operate. The main task facing us now is to expand the industry from its present small base. The Government regards the development of Afghanistan’s natural resources as the most important driver of economic growth, and essential to the reconstruction and development of the country…For example, construction minerals production has grown dramatically with the increased need for raw materials to feed road building and reconstruction. I expect this will be followed shortly by further investment in the coal, cement and hydrocarbons industries. The first signs of grassroots mineral exploration for gold have started, and with the appointment of Tender Advisors for the future development of the world class Aynak copper deposit, I expect this to lead to really significant investment in the mining sector of the economy in the very near future. Aynak is one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper deposits and it has already attracted interest from a wide spectrum of international companies.

Mining Journal provides an in depth account of the history and potential for mining all sorts of minerals. Here is the Journal‘s overview: 

Afghanistan has some of the most complex and varied geology in the world. The oldest rocks are Archean and they are succeeded by rocks from the Proterozoic and every Phanerozoic system up to the present day. The country also has a long and complicated tectonic history, partly related to its position at the western end of the Himalayas.

This diverse geological foundation has resulted in a significant mineral heritage with over 1,400 mineral occurrences recorded to date. Historical mining concentrated mostly on precious stone production, with some of the oldest known mines in the world established in Afghanistan to produce lapis lazuli for the Egyptian Pharaohs. 

More recent exploration in the 1960s and 70s resulted in the discovery of significant resources ofmetallic minerals, including copper, iron and gold, and non-metallic minerals, including halite, talc and mica. The bedrock geology of Afghanistan can be thought of as a jigsaw of crustal blocks separated by fault zones, each with a different geological history and mineral prospectivity. This jigsaw has been put together by a series of tectonic events dating from the Jurassic up to the present.

Among other things, Afghan emeralds are generally considered to be among the most beautiful in the world, rivaling the emeralds produced in Colombia. They were mined and sold for arms during the time of the Northern Alliance; the famous Mujahideen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud funded his campaign by selling emeralds from the Panjshir Valley. More recently, sources with first hand knowledge of the business have reported that Afghan emeralds were blocked by the Colombian emerald cartel, though there are reports of Afghan emeralds being traded on the sly through Eastern Europe.

Dog Day Afternoon

You may have already come across these videos of dogs greeting soldiers coming home from tours of duty, which have been making the rounds on the web. But you really can’t see too much of these reunions.

Thanks to Huffington Post for putting up this compilation for Veterans’ Day. I’ve been writing about how the United States is failing its vets; it’s good to see that at least their faithful pups are always there for them.

War Wounds: VA Ignores an “Epidemic” of Veteran Suicides

This Veterans Day, tributes continue for the 13 soldiers killed last week at Ford Hood, gunned down by one of their own. It was a shocking and terrible event, which warranted the outpouring of sorrow it inspired. Yet every single day, on average, more current and past members of the U.S. armed services die by their own hands than were killed on November 5 at Fort Hood.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ own calculations (which it tried to conceal from a CBS News probe, and from the public), there are “about 18 suicides per day among America’s 25 million veterans.” That’s well over 6,000 a year. In addition, the VA admits that “suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities.” Rates are highest among young men in their twenties, veterans of our current wars. And these numbers do not include suicides by active duty members of the military. In 2008, these numbered nearly 250 (Army 128, Navy 41, Marines 41, Air Force 38)–five every week.

There are no public outpourings of grief for these servicemen and women, whose deaths must often have followed prolonged suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, or plain old despair. There are no weeks of nonstop media coverage, no tributes at Veterans Day parades, and no memorial services with eulogies by the president. In fact, it has been a longstanding policy that the families of soldiers who commit suicide do not even recieve a letter of condolence from the president.

At best, there are sporadic news reports noting the high rates of suicide, and the occassional Congressional hearing. And while increasing lip service has been paid to improving mental health care for veterans, in reality, the VA has set up multiple obstacles to such care.  As The Nation reported last year, the VA has delayed or denied disability and medical benefits to thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans because they couldn’t “prove” that their conditions were “service-related.” In addition, “a recent Inspector General report found that 70 percent of VA facilities don’t have a system to track suicidal veterans. Only a handful of VA hospitals have rehab programs that include families. And soldiers injured today face a benefits waiting list more than 650,000 veterans long.” One doctor in the VA’s leadership who publicly criticized these shortcomings was summarily fired.

Even the true statistics on veteran suicides would never have come out were it not for a class action lawsuit by Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans United for Truth, who sued the VA in federal court. According to the veterans’ groups:

Many veterans who have fought in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, as well as those who served in earlier conflicts, are not being given the disability compensation, medical services and care they need. A much higher percentage of these veterans suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) than veterans of any previous war, due to the multiple tours many are serving, the unrelenting vigilance required by the circumstances, the greater prevalence of brain injuries caused by the types of weaponry in use, among other reasons. Despite this, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“DVA”) is failing to provide adequate and timely benefits and medical care.

The judge who heard the case in federal district court in San Francisco–himself an 86-year-old veteran of World War II–said he was sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ cause, but he found against them. According to VCS, “In his decision, Judge Conti held that although it is clear to the Court that the VA may need ‘a complete overhaul’ the the power to remedy this crisis lies with the other branches of government.” In other words, if the VA can’t or won’t fix itself, it’s time for Congress and the White House to step up and do something about this travesty.

Old and in the Fray: Barbara Bick’s Elder Activist Travelogue of Afghanistan

Radical geezer Barbara Bick, a lifelong activist for peace and women’s rights (and an old colleague and friend of mine from our time together at the Institute for Policy Studies in the 1970s), has a new book out, called Walking the Precipice: Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

55861100609790l5The review I’ve included below does a better job than I ever could of telling what the book is about and why it’s well worth reading. What makes it especially appropriate for a mention here on Unsilent Generation is the fact that it’s one of the very few few books in a genre that I’m going to call the Elder Activist Travelogue.

Books and articles about older people’s travels–which are rare enough to begin with–always seem to involve their heartwarming post-retirement sojourns, which usually take place in charming villages in Tuscany or the South of France. Barbara’s book is a completely different animal. Her multiple trips to Afghanistan, at ages 65 through 78, were made to observe and support the work of local women’s groups. She was gripped both by the country’s rugged beauty and by the stuggles of its people–and especially its women–against destructive forces both foreign and home-grown. The plight of Afghan women and girls became the obsession of her “golden years,” and drove her to return at some of the most intense and dangerous moments in Afghanistan’s history.

Barbara doesn’t pull punches about what it’s like to travel in rough terrain as an old person: Trapped in a remote northern compound after September 11, she worries about running out of her medications; when a helicopter finally arrives, she has to be hoisted in by several mujaheddin. But she prevails against these obstacles not only because of her own intrepid nature, but because she is driven by motives that go well beyond her own personal desire for adventure.

Here’s the review from this week’s Publishers Weekly of Walking the Precipice, which is available on Amazon.com.

Bick’s enthralling memoirs of her time in Afghanistan begin with her first travels in 1990, at the age of 65, and continue through two more visits, which gave the American activist and author (Culture and Politics) the rare opportunity to experience Afghanistan under the Communist, Taliban and Karzai regimes. While there, Bick traveled with a number of Afghan women, learning about their complex role in society, and developing a keen grasp of the fluid political rivalries. Bick’s final trip was to attend a conference affirming the Constitutional rights of Afghan women, a first, ceremonial step toward instigating positive change for women throughout the war-torn country.

In her tale, Bick produces a comprehensive political history of modern Afghanistan that distills deeply rooted tribal conflicts into terms Americans can easily grasp. While tracing her journey from the outside in, she makes her readers insiders too–without shying away from the drastic changes in perspective she gained on the way; in one of her most compelling and emotional episodes, Bick is witness to the assassination of moderate mujahadeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, a regional hero for many. By the end of the short but dense narrative, readers will have a far greater understanding of the region and the stakes under which its people labor.


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