Timing of Leak of Afghan Mineral Wealth Evokes Scepticism
By Jim Lobe
Interpress News (IPS): June 15, 2010
WASHINGTON, 14 Jun (IPS) - The timing of the publication of a major New York
Times story on the vast untapped mineral wealth that lies beneath
Afghanistan's soil is raising major questions about the intent of the
Pentagon, which released the information.
Given the increasingly negative news that has come out of Afghanistan - and
of U.S. strategy there - some analysts believe the front-page article is
designed to reverse growing public sentiment that the war is not worth the
"What better way to remind people about the country's potential bright
future - and by people I mean the Chinese, the Russians, the Pakistanis, and
the Americans - than by publicising or re-publicising valid (but already
public) information about the region's potential wealth?" wrote Marc
AmBinder, the political editor of 'The Atlantic' magazine, on his blog.
"The way in which the story was presented - with on-the- record quotations
from the Commander in Chief of CENTCOM [Gen. David Petraeus], no less - and
the weird promotion of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to
Undersecretary of Defense [Paul Brinkley] suggest a broad and deliberate
information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of
the war," he added.
The nearly 1,500-word article, based almost entirely on Pentagon sources and
featured as the lead story in Monday's 'Early Bird', a compilation of major
national security stories that the Pentagon distributes each morning,
asserted that Afghanistan may have close to one trillion dollars in untapped
mineral deposits. These include "huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold,
and critical industrial metals like lithium", the story said.
Afghanistan's total annual gross domestic product (GDP) last year came to
about 13 billion dollars.
One "internal Pentagon memo" provided to the Times' author, James Risen
predicted that Afghanistan could become "the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium,' a
key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and
"There is stunning potential here," Petraeus told Risen in an interview
Saturday. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is
hugely significant," he said of the conclusions of a study by a "small team
of Pentagon officials and American geologists".
The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose recent efforts to
begin a reconciliation process with the insurgent Taliban have been
criticised by the Pentagon, quickly seized on the report.
In a hastily arranged press briefing Monday, Karzai's spokesman, Waheed
Omar, said the report was "the best news we have had over many years in
Other commentators, however, suggested the news about Afghanistan's
underground wealth was not all that new.
As noted by Blake Hounshell, managing editor at 'Foreign Policy' magazine,
the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) already published a comprehensive
inventory of Afghanistan's non-oil mineral resources on the internet in
2007, as did the British Geological Survey. Much of their work was based on
explorations and surveys undertaken by the Soviet Union during its
occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980's.
The nearly trillion-dollar figure is based on a simple tabulation of the
previous estimates for each mineral according to its current market price,
according to Hounshell.
So, the question for many observers was why the article, which dominated
much of the foreign news in the network and cable broadcast media during
Monday's news cycle, was published now.
Risen himself suggested an answer in his story, noting "American and Afghan
officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in
the war in Afghanistan."
Indeed, U.S. and NATO casualties have risen sharply in recent weeks; a
four-month-old counterinsurgency offensive to "clear, hold, and build" in
the strategic region around Marja in Pashtun-dominated Helmand province
appears to have stalled badly; and a planned campaign in and around the
critical city of Kandahar has been delayed for at least two months.
The latest polling shows a noticeable erosion of support for Washington's
commitment to the war compared to eight months ago, when President Barack
Obama agreed to the Pentagon's recommendations to send an additional 30,000
U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bring the total U.S. military presence there
to around 100,000 later this summer.
Moreover, what little support for the war remains among the publics of
Washington's NATO allies - never as high as in the U.S. in any event - is
also fading quickly. NATO and non-NATO countries, excluding the U.S.,
currently have about 34,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.
On the eve of a NATO ministerial conference in Brussels last week, Secretary
of Defence Robert Gates warned that Washington and its NATO allies had very
little time to convince their publics that their strategy against the
Taliban was working - a message that has since been strongly echoed the
coalition's commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and by
Indeed, the administration is committed to a major review of its strategy in
Afghanistan at the end of the year, and Obama himself has pledged to begin
withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011.
Obama is already coming under pressure from right-wing and neo-conservative
media - some of which have been cultivated by Petraeus, in particular - and
Republican lawmakers to delay that date.
That view was seconded last week by former Petraeus aide, Lt. Col. John Nagl
(ret.), a counterinsurgency specialist who is now president of the
influential Centre for a New American Security.
Nagl worked closely with Petraeus in authoring the much- lauded 2006 U.S.
Counter-Insurgency Field Manual, which stressed the importance of efforts to
influence media perceptions in any counterinsurgency campaign.
"The media directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward
counter-insurgents, their operations, and the opposing insurgency," they
wrote. "This situation creates a war of perceptions between insurgents and
counter-insurgents conducted continuously using the news media."
In that respect, the appearance of the Times story Monday looked to many
observers like part of an effort to strengthen the case for giving the
counterinsurgency effort more time.
In an interview with Politico's Laura Rozen Monday, former Afghan finance
minister Ashraf Ghani said he had commissioned the assessment of
Afghanistan's mineral wealth. "As to why it came out today... I cannot
explain," he said.
*Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at
From: Information Clearing House
A Real American Hero
To: US Department of Defense; US Department of Justice
We, the Undersigned, call for justice for US Army PFC Bradley Manning,
incarcerated without charge (as of 18 June 2010) at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Media accounts state that Mr. Manning was arrested in late May for leaking
the video of US Apache helicopter pilots killing innocent people and
seriously wounding two children in Baghdad, including those who arrived to
help the wounded, as well as potentially other material. The video was
released by WikiLeaks under the name "Collateral Murder".
If these allegations are untrue, we call upon the US Department of Defense
to release Mr. Manning immediately.
If these allegations ARE true, we ALSO call upon the US Department of
Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately.
Simultaneously, we express our support for Mr. Manning in any case, and our
admiration for his courage if he is, in fact, the person who disclosed the
video. Like in the cases of Daniel Ellsberg, W. Mark Felt, Frank Serpico and
countless other whistleblowers before, government demands for secrecy must
yield to public knowledge and justice when government crime and corruption
are being kept hidden.
Justice for Bradley Manning!
Let us work to ensure that his bravery is rewarded with our admiration
and support. Click on: http://www.bradleymanning.org/
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