The Spoils of War: The Minerals of Afghanistan
January 7, 2002
Published in American Free Press of January 7, 2002
(Written in October 2001)
As a nation, Afghanistan is poor. But there’s a world of treasure beneath the surface of the landscape. Afghanistan has an extraordinary abundance of rare and strategic minerals—now all within easy reach of the global planners who installed a puppet government that they control and protect.
Pipelines transporting the immense gas and oil reserves of Central Asia and the Caspian basin to global markets will undoubtedly play an important role in Afghanistan’s future, but the country’s abundance of strategic minerals has the potential to greatly enrich the Afghans—if the wealth of the nation is not plundered.
Afghanistan has rich and extensive mineral resources including gold, silver, uranium, beryllium, copper, chrome, lead, zinc, manganese, iron and nickel. Lapis lazuli, amethyst, beryl, ruby, emerald, sapphire, alabaster, tourmaline, jade, and quartz are just some of the precious and semiprecious gemstones that have been mined in the country for centuries.
California-based geologist Bonita Chamberlin, who spent 25 years exploring the country, is convinced that Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits including oil and natural gas and gemstones could bring the nation great wealth. With Gary Bowersox, Chamberlin co-authored Gemstones of Afghanistan (1995) regarded as the most complete study of Afghanistan’s gems and minerals.
Chamberlin told me that she had identified 91 minerals, metals, and gems at 1,407 documented potential mining sites in Afghanistan. These sites also contain solid combustible minerals, metallic and non-metallic minerals, rare metals, radioactive elements, precious metals and gemstones, salt and industrial minerals. Beryllium and uranium are among the minerals in Afghanistan of the greatest strategic value, Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin began surveying Afghanistan in the mid-1970s while working with companies cultivating cotton and grapes. The scope of her work changed during the Soviet invasion when heavy bombing uncovered significant deposits of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other gemstones. Afghanistan has plentiful mineral wealth due to the collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Asian continent, which trapped and combined chemicals from ancient seas with those from the land under tremendous geologic pressures. This collision “formed minerals that exist in very few places in the world,” Chamberlin said. Afghans are only lacking the infrastructure to exploit their nation’s mineral wealth, she said. “The people just need the expertise and the direction.” When the required infrastructure is developed, Afghans “could rule the world,” Chamberlin told the Culver City Rock and Mineral Club in California.
Beryllium is a strategic and essential material used in the aerospace, energy, defense, nuclear, automotive, medical, and electronics industries. A unique metal with properties unmatched by any other metal, beryllium is both extremely light and strong. It is one-third lighter than aluminum but six times stiffer than steel. It also has one of the highest melting points of the light metals.
Beryllium is used in the nuclear industry in fusion reactors and in the construction of nuclear devices for military applications. Beryllium alloys are essential structural materials for the production of high-speed aircraft, including the space shuttle and the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), missiles, surveillance and communication satellites. It is also used in Apache helicopters, tanks, and aircraft landing gear components.
Military electronic targeting and infrared countermeasure systems use high beryllium content components, as do advanced missile and radar navigation systems. Beryllium alloys are used in battery contacts and electronic connectors in cell phones. Beryllium-copper provides the high reliability and miniaturization needed in these applications. FM radio, high-definition and cable television and underwater fiber optic cable systems all depend on beryllium. Computer and laser technologies require beryllium. It is used in computers where lightness and stiffness are required. As computers get smaller, lighter, and faster, the beryllium-copper alloy is often the only material that meets the demands.
RUBIES & SAPPHIRES
Afghanistan possesses rich gem deposits, many of which are used in lasers and advanced weapons technologies. Rubies have been used in lasers since laser technology was first developed. Historical accounts indicate that the ruby mines of Badakhshan in Afghanistan were the source of many of the finest and largest rubies in gem collections around the world, such as those in the crown jewels of Iran, the collection in Istanbul’s Topkapi, Russia’s Kremlin, and England’s Tower of London.
Sapphire is used in Lockheed Martin’s latest laser targeting system, “Sniper,” which is used on U.S. fighters. The Sniper has a sapphire window and will be used on the new Lockheed Martin JSF. Sniper’s window is made of sapphire because it is extraordinarily durable and transmits a wide range of wavelengths. Tests have shown that the window was unharmed after being struck by a piece of granite traveling at 197 mph and a metal nut at 150 mph. The rock shattered and the nut was bent but Sniper’s sapphire window suffered no damage.
OIL & GAS
Afghanistan has significant oil and gas deposits of its own. “Afghanistan has one of the largest, if not the largest, reserve of natural gas, which was already being tapped by the Soviets prior to their invasion,” Chamberlin said. At its peak in the late 1970s, Afghanistan supplied 70 to 90 percent of its natural gas output to the Soviet Union’s natural gas grid via a link through Uzbekistan. Although the Soviets estimated Afghanistan’s proven and probable natural gas reserves to be 5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and its oil and condensate reserves at 95 million barrels in the 1970s, current estimates range much higher.
Afghan natural gas production reached 275 million cubic feet per day (mcf/d) in the mid-1970s but output fell to about 220 mcf/d due to declining reserves from producing fields. In 1980 the Jorquduq field was brought online and was expected to boost the nation’s natural gas output to 385 mcf/d by the early 1980s. Oil exploration and development work as well as plans to build a 10,000 barrel per day refinery were halted after the 1979 Soviet invasion. Sabotage of infrastructure by the anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters limited the country’s total production to 290 mcf/d, an output level that held fairly steady until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. In February 1998, the Taliban announced plans to revive the Afghan National Oil Company, which was abolished after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
U.S. OIL STRATEGY
Afghanistan occupies a central position in the U.S. strategy for the economic control of the oil and gas resources in the entire Middle East, according to experts. Current estimates indicate that, in addition to huge gas deposits, the Caspian basin may hold as much as 200 billion barrels of oil—33 times the estimated holdings of Alaska’s North Slope.
V.R. Raghavan, a strategic analyst and former general in the Indian army, believes that the prospect of a western military presence in a region extending from Turkey to Tajikistan could not have escaped the geo-political strategists who waged the military campaign in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime and replace it with a government they could control and protect—with a multinational army.
In 1998, the California-based petroleum giant UNOCAL, which held 46.5 percent stakes in Central Asia Gas (CentGas), a consortium that planned an ambitious gas pipeline across Afghanistan, withdrew in frustration after several fruitless years. The pipeline was to stretch 762 miles from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad fields to Multan in Pakistan at an estimated cost of $1.9 billion. An additional $600 million would have brought the pipeline to energy-hungry India.
Among the many advantages of the Afghanistan route, according to experts from the oil and gas industry, is that it would terminate in the Arabian Sea, close to key Asian markets. Vice President Dick Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton, a major player in the oil industry, told oil industry executives in 1998, “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly, to become as strategically significant, as the Caspian.”