Blake Hounshell posits that the story about Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is a media strategy designed to bolster support for the war effort in the wake of a couple of weeks worth of adverse events and reporting. His circumstantial case leans on the point that this news is arguably not so new:
Read a little more carefully, though, and you realize that there’s less to this scoop than meets the eye. For one thing, the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. More information is available on the Afghan mining ministry’s website, including a report by the British Geological Survey (and there’s more here). You can also take a look at the USGS’s documentation of the airborne part of the survey here,
including the full set of aerial photographs.
Nowhere have I found that $1 trillion figure mentioned, which Risen suggests was generated
by a Pentagon task force seeking to help the Afghan government develop its
resources (looking at the chart accompanying the article, though, it appears to be a straightforward tabulation of the total reserve figures for each mineral times current the current market price). According to Risen, that task force has begun prepping the mining ministry to start soliciting bids for mineral rights in the fall.
Totaling up the reserves and multiplying by the market price of the underlying commodities seems like an obvious enough method, but also one that might induce confusion. There’s such-and-such worth of oil sitting underneath the Gulf of Mexico, but the value of the right to drill for it is less than the value of the oil. There are costs involved with setting up the drilling operation, potential liability associated with the fact that you might unleash an epic environmental disaster, etc. Obviously Afghanistan’s mining and transportation infrastructure is not the best in the world, so simply knowing the price of the goods doesn’t tell you how much can be feasibly or profitably recovered.