U.S. Companies are planning on taking a larger role in extracting Afghanistan’s enormous reserves of valuable rare earth minerals, Reuters reported after U.S. President Donald Trump met with his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani on Thursday.
According to a White House statement, the presidents agreed that the development of Afghan minerals by U.S. companies would “develop materials critical to national security,” as well as “defray some of the costs of United States assistance as Afghans become more self-reliant.”
Afghanistan has some of the world’s largest un-extracted reserves of rare earth minerals valuable in electronic production, such as lithium, as well as gold and various gemstones. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the total value at at least US$1 trillion.
The two presidents reportedly discussed difficulties facing the project, such as the growing Taliban insurgency in regions containing the majority of the minerals. With this in account, they both expressed commitment to Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy, which, against what he promised in the election campaign, involves keeping U.S. military forces in the country for an indefinite period of time.
The U.S. military has had its eyes on Afghan mineral deposits for some time. A 2007 Pentagon memo that the New York Times quoted in a 2010 article says that Afghanistan could be the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” referencing the oil-rich monarchy that is a key U.S. regional ally.
“There is stunning potential here (in Afghanistan),” General David Petraeus said in the same memo.
Some analysts also believe that a push for greater U.S. presence in Afghan mineral extraction could be a way of limiting the influence of China. With China, along with Russia and Iran gaining greater regional influence, economic activities in the region are no longer the sole domain of U.S.-based companies.
China and Afghanistan have already cooperated to an extent in mineral extraction and China has made the country a center-point of its planned Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to commercially link Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and more recently Latin America and the Caribbean.
Afghanistan also has extensive oil reserves, with a new oil field having been discovered as recently as 2010.