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Afghanistan’s rare earth element bonanza

ILLUSTRATION: Forbes/US Global Investors

By Alan Dowd | 15 January 2014

FRASIER INSTITUTE — After more than a decade of war and nation building, members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan are heading for the exits. Although what ISAF will leave behind is better than what was there in 2001, Afghanistan remains a battered land. However, the resources Afghanistan’s land holds — copper, cobalt, iron, barite, sulfur, lead, silver, zinc, niobium, and 1.4 million metric tons of rare-earth elements (REEs) — may be a silver lining. [Also platinum and gold]

U.S. agencies estimate Afghanistan’s mineral deposits to be worth upwards of $1 trillion. In fact, a classified Pentagon memo called Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” (Although lithium is technically not a rare earth element, it serves some of the same purposes.)

Of course, the fact that Afghanistan is rich in minerals is not necessarily new information. The Soviets identified mineral deposits in Afghanistan during their decade-long occupation. What is new is the volume and precision of mineral-related information. Afghanistan has been mapped using what is known as “broad-scale hyper-spectral data” — highly precise technologies deployed by aircraft that, in effect, allow U.S. military and geological experts to peer beneath Afghanistan’s skin and paint a picture of its vast mineral wealth. According to Jim Bullion, who heads a Pentagon task force on postwar development, these maps reveal that Afghanistan could “become a world leader in the minerals sector.”

There’s another set of factors at work today that were not present during the Soviet period: REEs are in high demand, the dependability of the REE supply chain is in question, and Afghanistan’s mineral wealth may be able to help knit the country back together after decades of war.

But simply having a rich mineral endowment doesn’t mean that Afghanistan is poised to tap it quickly. Challenges abound. […]


China may align itself with Taliban and try to exploit Afghanistan’s rare earth metals, analyst warns

By Weizhen Tan | 17 August 2021

  • Rare earth metals in Afghanistan were estimated to be worth anywhere between $1 trillion and $3 trillion in 2020.
  • Only hours after the Taliban overran Afghanistan, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Beijing was ready for “friendly cooperation with Afghanistan.”
  • China has dominated the rare earths market globally and threatened to cut off supplies to the U.S. during the trade war in 2019.

CNBC — Afghanistan is estimated to have trillions of dollars worth of rare earth metals, and countries — such as China — that may be looking to swoop in on the country must follow international terms, one analyst told CNBC.

Shamaila Khan, director of emerging market debt at AllianceBernstein, said the Taliban insurgents have emerged with resources that are a “very dangerous proposition for the world,” with minerals in Afghanistan that “can be exploited.”

Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Islamist militant group over the weekend, as it seized the capital of Kabul as well as the Presidential Palace. After President Joe Biden’s April decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban made stunning battlefield advances — and nearly the whole nation is now under the insurgents’ control.

The international community should put pressure on China, for instance, if it seeks to ally itself with the Taliban, Khan added. […]

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2 Comments on Afghanistan’s rare earth element bonanza

  1. You must be bloody mad to suggest that after the destruction wrought by the west over the last twenty years, that things are better.

  2. If you want to see a frown go upside down, watch Cobalt, the LME and Afghanistan.

    https://www.lme.com/en-GB/Metals/Minor-metals/Cobalt#tabIndex=2

    They are having server problems so I could not back date the chart more than what you see in the link; however, you can see the decline, which should continue, until…

    The Belt and Road initiative lands in Kabul, along with Vlad from Mother Russia. Then the fun will begin, and watch the LME to see if I am correct or just a fool on this one.

    Best,
    SC

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