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$1 Trillion Trove of Rare Minerals Revealed Under Afghanistan

LiveScience.com
Despite being one of the poorest nations in the world, Afghanistan may be sitting on one of the richest troves of minerals in the world, valued at nearly $1 trillion, according to U.S. scientists.
Afghanistan, a country nearly the size of Texas, is loaded with minerals deposited by the violent collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began inspecting what mineral resources Afghanistan had after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in the country in 2004. As it turns out, the Afghanistan Geological Survey staff had kept Soviet geological maps and reports up to 50 years old or more that hinted at a geological gold mine.
In 2006, U.S. researchers flew airborne missions to conduct magnetic, gravity and hyperspectral surveys over Afghanistan. The magnetic surveys probed for iron-bearing minerals up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) below the surface, while the gravity surveys tried to identify sediment-filled basins potentially rich in oil and gas. The
hyperspectral survey looked at the spectrum of light reflected off rocks to identify the light signatures unique to each mineral. More than 70 percent of the country was mapped in just two months. [Facts About Rare Earth Minerals (Infographic)]
The surveys verified all the major Soviet finds. Afghanistan may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan's Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements.
"Afghanistan is a country that is very, very rich in mineral resources," Jack Medlin, a geologist and program manager of the U.S. Geological Survey's Afghanistan project, told Live Science. "We've identified the potential for at least 24 world-class mineral deposits." The scientists' work was detailed in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science.

Afghanistan treasure maps
In 2010, the USGS data attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), which is entrusted with rebuilding Afghanistan. The task force valued Afghanistan's mineral resources at $908 billion, while the Afghan government's estimate is $3 trillion. [Gold Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Gold Mining?]
Over the past four years, USGS and TFBSO have embarked on dozens of excursions in the war zone to collect and analyze mineral samples to confirm the aerial findings.
"Performing an assessment of mineral resources in Afghanistan is not like going out in the United States and doing normal field work," Medlin said. "What becomes very, very obvious in Afghanistan is the huge amount of pre-planning that has to take place in order to visit any site in that country, such as who is going to provide security and how much security is needed.

You also have to plan how you are actually going to get to some place, as for most of the sites in Afghanistan, you cannot drive there — our work involved helicopters, and for our safety, we couldn't be on the ground very long to get samples."
The researchers' work has helped develop what are essentially treasure maps that let mining companies know what minerals are there, how much is there, and where they are, all to attract bids on the rights to the deposits. The Afghan government has already signed a 30-year, $3 billion contract with the China Metallurgical Group, a state-owned mining enterprise based in Beijing, to exploit the Mes Aynak copper deposit, and awarded mining rights for the country's biggest iron deposit to a group of Indian state-run and private companies. [Is China Mining a Rare Earth Monopoly? Op-Ed]
"These resources provide the potential for Afghanistan to develop its economy, to create jobs and build infrastructure, as it goes into the future," Medlin said.
The mineral riches could lift Afghanistan out of poverty and fight crime and terrorism, said Said Mirzad, co-coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey's Afghanistan program.
"Terrorists in Afghanistan exploited the misery of the local population," Mirzad said. "If you give the population jobs, if they could bring bread to the table, if they had something to defend, then the terrorists, who are very few in number, won't have sway."

Challenges to mining
However, developing a mining industry in Afghanistan faces major challenges. "One of the biggest challenges is security," Medlin said. "Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure. We're talking about access to energy, which is required to develop mines. We're talking access to roads, railroads and so forth. We're also talking about access to water, which is needed in most mining operations. It's all a big challenge, but it's doable. It won't happen overnight, but it's doable."
The USGS is currently helping to rebuild the scientific expertise of the Afghanistan Geological Survey, teaching the researchers modern techniques such as remote sensing. "We want to bring the Afghanistan Geological Survey into the 21st century," Medlin said. "The aim is to help the Afghans develop their mineral resources in a sustainable way."
Mining and other forms of natural resources development can lead to graft, corruption, social unrest and environmental degradation. Other nations rich in resources such as Botswana, Chile and Norway could provide Afghanistan good models to emulate in order to avoid these problems, said Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the journal Science and director of the USGS in the summer of 2012.
For example, important factors contributing to peace and prosperity in those nations are strong public institutions, equitable redistribution of revenues, environmental planning and investment in education, scientific institutions and human resources, McNutt noted.

"The leaders of Afghanistan will have many important decisions to make in the coming years and decades," McNutt wrote in an editorial in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. "Science has opened the door to a new, more prosperous future. May they use this opportunity wisely."

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Money on War Against Drug Wasted

03 August, 2014

In a recent report, the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that an amount of $7.6 billion was allocated to fight the war against drug in Afghanistan, but the outcome of the invested amount proved negative and questionable. 

According to the officials responsible for the initiative, poppy cultivation has increased making the fight against drugs more difficult than before; although the question remains where and how the $7.6 billion was allocated. 

"Certainly, the amount given to eradicate the war on drugs is less than the amount profited from drug smuggling," Deputy Minister of Counter Narcotics Ibrahimi Azhar said. "More money shouldn't have been spent, but most of the money was spent by the foreigners and we received fewer amounts to be used against poppy cultivation." 

In a country where security remains as one of the major challenges, drug smuggling has interacted as a cause for security threats. It is said that nearly 1.5 million people in Afghanistan are affiliated with the drug production. 

Based on the statistics, over the last year 209,000 hectares of poppy was cultivated in Afghanistan. The price of Afghan drug is estimated to be $1.5 billion, but the trade of drugs in the international markets is much higher and is estimated to be $60 billion. 

A total of $1.2 billion goes into the pockets of the farmers who cultivate the drugs, $2.2 billion goes into the account of the national drug mafia and $450 million goes to the pockets of the Taliban. 

Despite the presence of international forces in the country the war against drugs has not been eliminated. Ground realities show that the removal of the issue will take time and firm political commitment and determination to eradicate the war on drugs.

The United States Has Outspent the Marshall Plan to Rebuild Afghanistan

 

Foreign Policy JULY 30, 2014

In June of 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall delivered a wholly unexpected commencement speech to the newly minted graduates of Harvard University. The United States, Marshall announced, would launch a massive reconstruction effort to rebuild Europe in the devastating aftermath of World War II. The subsequent effort, the Marshall Plan, put Europe back on the path to prosperity and has been hailed as a monumental, if wildly expensive, achievement of U.S. foreign policy. All told, the United States funneled an inflation-adjusted $103.4 billion to the plan's recipients over the course of four years. 

But the Marshall Plan has now been knocked off its pedestal as America's most expensive nation-building project. Afghanistan now reigns supreme, having gobbled up $104 billion in American aid. And, unlike in Europe, that money hasn't bought the kind of world-class infrastructure that became the cornerstones of numerous flourishing economies. Instead, the funds have mainly bought empty buildings, malfunctioning power plants, and a corrupt government that will be wholly dependent on Western -- read: American -- aid well into the future. 

On Wednesday, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, released his quarterly report to Congress. The document reads like an early epitaph for the American nation-building effort in Afghanistan. With $104 billion already spent, another $5.8 billion has been requested for 2015. Of the money appropriated, $15.95 billion remains to be spent. 

 

Total U.S. Funding for Afghanistan Reconstruction 

Does not include Other Reconstruction Funds ($7.29 BN) or Civilian Operations ($8.91 BN) 

A significant portion of that money has been directed toward projects that are comically ill conceived or badly carried out. The United States has spent $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, but opium cultivation there -- a key Taliban funding source -- has risen for the past three years, and helped push global quantities of the crop to a record level.

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $34.4 million toward a soybean project in the face of scientific evidence indicating that the crop was "inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented." The United States Agency for International Development has pledged $75 million toward the ill-fated Kajaki Dam project, but the inspector general questions whether that project is at all economically viable.

The United States has spent $626 million to provide weapons and equipment to Afghan forces. That aid includes 465,000 small arms, but, according to the IG, for 43 percent of those arms, information was missing in a database used to track their receipt in Afghanistan. Indeed, equipment expenditures have been a key outlay during the American presence in Afghanistan: 

 

U.S. Spending on ANA Equipment 

So it's perhaps no surprise that the report notes that the Afghan government is far from financial independence. Last year, the Afghan government saw revenues of about $2 billion. Its budget was far larger: $5.4 billion. Donors mostly made up that difference. In January, Afghanistan approved a $7.6 billion budget, with donors chipping in about $4.8 billion. 

 

Of the $104 billion the United States has poured into Afghanistan since fiscal year 2002, some $62 billion has gone toward creating the Afghan army. (It should be noted that when comparing the U.S. reconstruction effort in Afghanistan with the Marshall Plan that in the aftermath of World War II, the United States did not have to stand up any European armies.) To save money, the size of that force is being reduced from 352,000 to 228,500 men. Even at that reduced size, the Afghan government takes in far less money than will be required to fund the army: an estimated $4.1 billion annually. 

 

Hobbled by a weak state, persistent poverty, and a mostly rural population, Afghanistan has historically struggled to collect taxes, which Sopko identifies as one of the key challenges for Kabul in the years ahead. But so far, the government is struggling to make progress. According to the IG's report, the Afghan government missed by 20 percent its revenue targets during the first four months of the current fiscal year.

At the same time, expenses are expected to rise, creating a situation in which Afghanistan will remain highly reliant on the generosity of donor nations. 

 

And while the money will keep pouring into Afghanistan, the U.S. government's ability to oversee how it is being spent is about to decline, according to Sopko. Less than 20 percent of Afghanistan is expected to be accessible to U.S. oversight personnel by December, a 50 percent decrease since 2009. 

 

Sopko's report comes at a crucial turning point for the country. The runoff election between presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah is undergoing an audit of all 8 million ballots. A new Afghan president cannot be declared fast enough for Washington, which is waiting on a winner to sign a bilateral security agreement. Without the agreement, the United States has said it will have to withdraw all troops by the end of the year. If the next Afghan president does sign it, President Barack Obama has said 9,800 American troops will remain, drawing down to roughly 4,900 by the end of 2015. 

In his letter accompanying the report, Sopko describes his most recent trip to Afghanistan in June. "The U.S. effort to bring its men, women, and materiel home from Afghanistan already is proceeding at a tremendous pace," Sopko notes, and as the United States withdraws, "the Afghan National Security Forces will be responsible for securing Afghanistan." 

But Sopko's oversight efforts cast doubts on whether they will be able to do so effectively. Earlier this week, his office released a report explaining that those forces may have lost track of as many as 43 percent of the nearly half a million small arms provided by the United States. A day later, his office released a report casting doubt on whether the ANSF's fleet of armored personnel carriers will be viable in the long term. 

Amid these questions over equipment and procurement, Afghan forces have been sustaining heavy casualties. Between March 2012 and May 2014, the Afghan National Army saw 2,330 of its soldiers killed in action. The United States, the primary financial benefactor or those forces, has paid a heavy price here too. In the 11 years since the war began, the United States has lost 2,338 troops and seen more than 19,000 wounded. 

Watchdog: U.S. may be funding Afghan terrorists through dubious business ties

The Washington Times July 30, 2014 

The U.S. could be funding the very terrorists in Afghanistan it is fighting because of an Army oversight process that’s so bad it’s not weeding out businesses connected to insurgents, a top watchdog warned Wednesday. In one instance, a contractor identified as being connected to insurgents was even given access to a U.S. and allied facility — and got paid for its work — because it hadn’t been prevented from receiving jobs. 

In many other cases, individuals and businesses that were found to be connected to insurgents are still eligible to receive contracts and funding from the U.S. government because the Army is not debarring them, said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko. 

“The Army’s refusal to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency from receiving government contracts because the information supporting these recommendations is classified is not only legally wrong, but contrary to sound policy and national-security goals,” Mr. Sopko wrote in the inspector general’s quarterly report on the state of U.S. rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. 

“It is troubling that our government can and does use classified information to arrest, detain, and even kill individuals linked to the insurgency in Afghanistan, but apparently the same classified information cannot be used to deny these same individuals their rights to contract work with the U.S. government,” he said. 

Mr. Sopko said he is urging the Pentagon to change the “misguided policy” and to “impose common sense” on the suspension and debarment program. 

SIGAR reported last year that during an inspection of the construction of a courthouse, it learned that the main company in charge had hired an Afghanistan-based subcontractor that had been deemed to pose “a threat to U.S. and Coalition forces.” 

Workers for the contractor were given access to the courthouse site despite being involved in “networks that provide components used to make improvised explosive devices,” according to the Commerce Department’s list of terrorism-connected companies. SIGAR has raised warnings repeatedly about terrorism-connected businesses. 

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last year, Mr. Sopko took issue with the Army’s position that the classified information that connects businesses to terrorists should not be used to debar those businesses. 

“Since September 2012, SIGAR has sought the debarment of 43 foreign individuals and companies identified as providing support to insurgents in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “To date, the U.S. Army has rejected all of these requests,” including a request to debar the contractor that later gained access to the courthouse site. 

Army officials have “rejected SIGAR’s requests because it is concerned that suspending or debarring these individuals and companies would violate their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Mr. Sopko’s letter said. 

He called the Army’s position “legally dubious, contrary to good public policy and contrary to our security goals in Afghanistan.” 

SIGAR resubmitted the contractor for debarment, but it looks like no action has been taken. The company’s website still lists it as a partner of American government organizations such as USAID.  The New York Times estimates that the company has received about $150 million in business from the U.S. government. 

SIGAR has issued its warning as the U.S. withdraws most of its troops and equipment from Afghanistan. Since the start of combat operations in 2001, the U.S. has spent more than $100 billion on aid and reconstruction efforts for the war-torn nation.

Saffron to Replace Poppy

17 July 2014
According to the Agriculture Development Department, it is expected that 5,000 ton saffron will be harvested in 32 provinces of Afghanistan this year. In recent years, the country has witnessed a tangible interest in saffron cultivation.
Known for its high quality in the world market and with the price of 100,000 Afghanis per kg, saffron is considered the best alternative for poppy cultivation in the county. For this reason, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (MAIL) has started to undertake agricultural exhibitions to further promote saffron among farmers. Agriculture experts assert that the government should cooperate with those interested in saffron production in order to further expand the production country-wide.
"Saffron needs very little water and all members of a family can contribute to its cultivation. It also provides good income for the family," agriculture expert Syed Nabil Shinwari said. "The herb is significant for the economic sector; the government must work on expanding its production."
Considering that Afghanistan constitutes as the world's largest producer of opium, the shift to the production of saffron--one of the best alternatives to poppy-- is majorly significant for the country.