On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani came together to have companies for the U.S develop against Afghanistan’s reserves on rare earth minerals. Both governments emphasize the potential strategic value of Afghanistan’s vast untouched mineral reserves.
After 16 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is seeking ways to offset the billions of dollars spent annually in sustaining the government. Mining is a way to do that.
“They agreed that such initiatives would help American companies develop materials critical to national security while growing Afghanistan’s economy and creating new jobs in both countries, therefore defraying some of the costs of United States assistance as Afghans become more self-reliant,” the White House said.
U.S. Geological Survey estimated the potential value of Afghanistan’s minerals at as much as $1 trillion. These minerals include gold, gemstones, lithium, and rare earths that are vital in modern-day electronics.
The rare earths sector is dominated by China, causing apprehension in Washington that Beijing has a monopoly on the raw materials that are crucial to modern defense technology.
Extracting the minerals continues to be costly and difficult. The fact that large parts of the reserves of rare earths in Afghanistan are located in the Hemland province, which is primarily under Taliban control mean that miners are seeking other options.
Mike Harrowell, analyst at research firm said attempting rare earths extraction in Afghanistan “makes no sense on almost any level” unless it were treated as a government-funded or nation-building project.
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He stated, “It’s not a simple business, and the technology is quite tightly held. It costs a lot”.
“There are so many well-studied projects in North America that were assessed during the rare earths boom after 2010 that still require funding. You would do any of those projects before you’d do one in Afghanistan”.