The New York Times reports on a monster find of minerals in Afghanistan, some of them strategic (hat tip reader Francois T):
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…..
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.
Yves here. Translation: if we make the Afghanis affluent enough, they’ll be happy the US is there and getting its cut for showing them the way.
I suspect there is a wee problem with that line of thinking. First, the US does not have much credibility with the locals. We made promises to the locals to obtain their support against the Soviets, then failed to deliver. We’ve backed Karzai, who is widely regarded as a crook and a thug. The US troops are not merely not welcome, they don’t even remotely control the countryside. We pointed earlier in the week to this revealing remark in the Washington Post:
…a crucial campaign …will take longer than planned because local Afghans do not yet welcome the military-run operation.
“When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them,” Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Thursday in explaining why the Kandahar operation has been pushed back until at least September.
“It’s a deliberative process. It takes time to convince people,” he told reporters at a meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels.
Yves here. Let me translate again: the natives resent the US presence and want them out. Our resident historian (military and otherwise)/analyst Richard Kline pointed in turn to an unintentionally damning piece in the Christian Science Monitor and provided this take:
Here are a few points in takeaway, directly from statements of joes in the 12th infantry a few miles outside Kandahar.
1) They absolutely do _not_ control the countryside.
2) The Taliban engage them—when they want to, where they want to, as they want to—not the other way around.
3) The occupiers are engaged in an attritional contest where everywhere they go is now mined and they lose a steady, bloody drip of casualties anytime they move.
4) The Taliban have received heavy reinforcements from outside the region which the occupiers are unable in any meaningful way to interdict.
5) The Taliban can, and do, kill anyone who cooperates in any remote way with the occupation, and neither the occupation nor its regime can do anything about this whatsoever.
6) The operational objective of this particular unit was, in effect, to ‘inconvenience the manueverability’ of the Taliban units.
7) The operational objective of their regional command (in Kandahar) was ‘to control the big cities so that they (the Taliban) would have to come to terms with us.’
And keep in mind, this is all taking place at the height of The Surge II in the region with maximum deployment of assets declared as the primary objective of the present occupation campaigning season.
There is a word for this configuration of conditions: defeat. This is why Stan McChrystal is re-polishing his shiny balls: he and his are completely immobilized, have lost any operational initiative that they may have had, can’t do a damn thing about it, and are now trying to keep the large population centers hostage to some kind of settlement. This looks highly like the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, minus the saturation bombing but with far more boots on the ground. This looks amazingly like the Indochina dumb-a-thon; even the kind of rhetoric used by the guys in the article I mention would be entirely in place, trying to paint a picture of failure as one where the occupation is ‘in control and on plan’ by milspeak fuzziness and omission, much of it the unintentional result of what is left when candor is excluded.
We’ve lost in Afghanistan. The only one winning there are the grossly parasitic private contractors sucking down the governments billions at cost-plus for another season of the Long Score of which they are the sole beneficiaries.
Yves here. But oh, we’ve just discovered a monster mineral trove! This vastly ups the stakes. It now isn’t hard to see that we will continue to pour resources and young men’s lives into Afghanistan to make sure we control these riches, just as we continue to throw money and personnel into Iraq to hold the prize of the second largest oil reserves in the world.
We do happen to have the bad luck to have the commodities located in the most contested areas. From the Times:
The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.
And the Afghans have never been into mining.
With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program.
Yves here. Do you think a culture that has depended on farming and herding is going to be keen to have the countryside turned into a strip mine? Even if some Afghans warm to the idea, others are sure to oppose it vigorously.
Moreover, as happens in war, we’ve killed a lot of civilians. And we haven’t been too clever about choosing friends either. This combination is fatal. I’ve been told by Afghanis (readers are welcome to correct me if I am wrong) that this is a part of the world where the responsibility for avenging a murder carries across generations. One said that it would be impossible to subdue its 29 million population short of exterminating them: “We will hunt you down across the world.”
While these commentators may be overstating their blood lust and tenacity, a much simpler point appears to be true: we’ve made a complete mess in a region that now has even more strategic value than we had thought. And our Plan B, of buying the locals off, does not look likely to appeal to them
Imperialism, ugly business, isn’t it?
Update 2:00 AM: Some alert readers have pointed out that news of the big mineral find was reported in China in February (hat tip JoJo) and copper mining has been underway since 2007. Given the flurry of not so hot press a couple of days ago on the progress of the war in Afghanistan, is the New York Times being used as a mouthpiece to push a justification as to why we are there (and a superfically plausible rationale as to why we might be able to get the population on our side)?