U.S. Discovers Huge Afghan Mineral Wealth

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"Afghanistan could become the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium.'"

U.S. geologists have discovered nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, including vast reserves of copper and lithium, The New York Times reported Monday.

The deposits, which also include huge veins of iron, gold, niobium and cobalt, are enough to turn the battle-scarred country into one of the world's leading mining exporters, senior U.S. government officials said.

Afghanistan's potential lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which currently has the world's largest known lithium reserves, the Times said.

Afghanistan has so much of it that it could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," according to an internal Pentagon memo quoted by the newspaper.

The iron and copper deposits are large enough to make Afghanistan one of the world's top producers, U.S. officials said.

"There is stunning potential here," said General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

"This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy," Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines said.

A small team of U.S. geologists and Pentagon officials uncovered the mineral wealth with help from charts and data collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Afghan geologists took the charts home to protect them during the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal, and produced them again in 2001 with the fall of the Taliban, the Times said.

"There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war," Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s, told The Times.

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