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A huge mineral find in Afghanistan

Did someone say exit strategy? The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. has found massive deposits of untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan valued at almost $1 trillion:

The previously unknown deposits â?? including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium â?? 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 â??Saudi Arabia of lithium,â? a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistanâ??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.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

Lisa Reisman at MetalMiner isn't impressed:

Undoubtedly, weâ??d probably all agree that weâ??d like to see Afghanistan move its economy away from its primary source of revenue (opium traffic), stabilize its government and turn itself back to a country without the Taliban. But call me a cynic I think the enthusiasm for these findings is grossly overdone. If we (America) as a country wonâ??t deal with Bolivia for its lithium, how in the world do we expect to help create the physical infrastructure (roads, rails, etc) the political infrastructure â?? if a central structure is even possible in Afghanistan (e.g. security, a rule of law, quasi-non-corrupt leaders) and religious infrastructure (e.g. the removal of the Taliban) required to help Afghanistan transform its â??drug resistantâ? (pun intended) ways to take advantage of these finds?

RCW contributor Daniel McGroarty has lots to say about the value of strategic and Rare Earth minerals.

UPDATE: Michael Cohen thinks it's a joke:

But even if this is true, so what? How many years would it take to put in place an infrastructure to develop and mine these natural resources? And if you think Afghanistan is corrupt now (only Somalia is worse!) imagine how it will look after this? Congo has tons of natural resources; so does Angola. How's that working out for them?

There is nothing in this story that changes the fundamental incoherence of the current mission in Afghanistan. There is nothing here that will change the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan and the reality of a corrupt, illegitimate Afghan government, an adaptable insurgent force and a June 2011 deadline for the commencement of US troop withdrawals.

The only thing this story shows is the desperation of the Pentagon in planting pie-in-the-sky news stories about Afghanistan and trying to salvage the lost cause that is our current mission there.

Blake Hounshell also smells something of a rat.