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Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth but faces steep challenges to tap it

Afghanistan has mineral resources that include precious gems and minerals such as copper and rare earth elements. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth but faces steep challenges to tap it

Afghanistan has mineral resources that include precious gems and minerals such as copper and rare earth elements. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth but faces steep challenges to tap it

Afghanistan has mineral resources that include precious gems and minerals such as copper and rare earth elements. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth but faces steep challenges to tap it

Afghanistan has mineral resources that include precious gems and minerals such as copper and rare earth elements. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Afghanistan possesses a wealth of nonfuel minerals whose value has been estimated at more than US$1 trillion.

Afghanistan has mineral resources that include precious gems and minerals such as copper and rare earth elements. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Scott L. Montgomery, University of Washington

The official ending of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan leaves a number of long-term questions, including how the country can build a functioning economy. Now that U.S. assistance has evaporated and international aid is largely shut off, what options does Afghanistan have?

One possibility resides in natural resources. Afghanistan possesses a wealth of nonfuel minerals whose value has been estimated at more than US$1 trillion. For millennia the country was renowned for its gemstones – rubies, emeralds, tourmalines and lapis lazuli. These minerals continue to be locally extracted, both legally and illegally, in mostly small, artisanal mines. Far more value, however, lies with the country’s endowments of iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium.

While the total abundance of minerals is certainly vast, scientific understanding of these resources is still at an exploratory stage. Even with a better understanding of how rewarding their extraction might be, the presence of these resources will not provide a jump-start to a new economy. As a geologist who has studied the extent of their resources, I estimate a minimum of seven to 10 years will be needed for large-scale mining to become a major new source of revenue.

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