More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

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Written by Prof Michel Chossudovsky; Originally appeared at GlobalResearch

Trump calls for escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Why? Is it part of the “Global War on Terrorism”, going after the bad guys, or is it something else?

Unknown to the broader public, Afghanistan has significant oil, natural gas and strategic raw material resources, not to mention opium, a multibillion dollar industry which feeds America’s illegal heroin market.

These mineral reserves include huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium, which is a strategic raw material used in the production of high tech batteries for laptops, cell phones and electric cars.

The implication of Trump’s resolve is to plunder and steal Afghanistan’s mineral riches to finance the “reconstruction” of a country destroyed by the US and its allies after 16 years of war, i.e  “War reparations” paid to the aggressor nation?

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

Screenshot: The Independent.

An internal 2007 Pentagon memo, quoted by the New York Times suggests that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” (New York Times, U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan – NYTimes.com, June 14, 2010, See also BBC, 14 June 2010, see also Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2010).

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment…

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said… “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines. (New York Times, op. cit.)

What this 2007 report does not mention is that this resource base has been known to both Russia (Soviet Union) and China going back to the 1970s.

While the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani has called upon President Donald Trump to promote US. investments in mining, including lithium, China is in the forefront in developing projects in mining and energy as well as pipeline projects and transport corridors.

China is a major trading and investment partner with Afghanistan (alongside Russia and Iran), which potentially encroaches upon US economic and strategic interests in Central Asia

China’s intent is to eventually integrate land transportation through the historical Wakhan Corridor which links Afghanistan to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region (see map below).

Afghanistan’s estimated $3 trillion worth of unexploited minerals, Chinese companies have acquired rights to extract vast quantities of copper and coal and snapped up the first oil exploration concessions granted to foreigners in decades. China is also eyeing extensive deposits of lithium, uses of which range from batteries to nuclear components.

The Chinese are also investing in hydropower, agriculture and construction. A direct road link to China across the remote 76-kilometer border between the two countries is in progress. (New Delhi Times, July 18, 2015)

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

Afghanistan has extensive oil reserves which are being explored by China’s National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

“War is Good for Business” 

The US military bases are there to assert US control over Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. According to Foreign Affairs, there are more U.S. military forces deployed there [Afghanistan] than to any other active combat zone”, the official mandate of  which is “to go after” the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS as part of the “Global war on Terrorism”.

Why so many military bases? Why the additional forces sent in by Trump?

The unspoken objective of US military presence in Afghanistan is to keep the Chinese out, i.e hinder China from establishing trade and investments relations with Afghanistan.

More generally, the establishment of military bases in Afghanistan on China’s Western border is part of a broader process of military encirclement of the People’s Republic of China.–i.e naval deployments in the South China sea, military facilities in Guam, South Korea, Okinawa, Jeju Island, etc. (see 2011 map below)

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

Pivot to Asia

Under the Afghan-US security pact,  established under Obama’s Asian pivot, Washington and its NATO partners have established a permanent military presence in Afghanistan, with military facilities located close to China’s Western frontier.  The pact was intended to allow the US to maintain their nine permanent military bases, strategically located on the borders of China, Pakistan and Iran as well as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

US military presence, however, has not prevented the expansion of trade and investment relations between China and Afghanistan. A strategic partnership agreement was signed between Kabul and Beijing in 2012. Afghanistan has observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Moreover, neighboring Pakistan –which is now a full member of the SCO–, has established close bilateral relations with China. And now Donald Trump  is threatening Pakistan, which for many years has been the target of  America’s “undeclared drone war”.

In other words, a shift in geopolitical alignments has taken place which favors the integration of Afghanistan alongside Pakistan into the Eurasian trade, investment and energy axis.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and China are cooperating in oil and gas pipeline projects. The SCO of which Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are full members is providing a geopolitical platform for the integration of Afghanistan into the Eurasian energy and transport corridors.

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral Riches

China is eventually intent upon integrating Afghanistan into the transport network of Western China as part of the Belt and Road initiative.

Moreover, China’s state owned mining giant, Metallurgical Corporation of China Limited (MCC) “has already managed to take control of the huge copper deposit Mes Aynak, which lies in an area controlled by the Taliban.  Already in 2010, Washington feared “that resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth which would upset the United States”… After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more” (Mining.com)

China and the Battle for Lithium

More American Troops to Afghanistan, To Keep the Chinese Out? Lithium and the Battle for Afghanistan’s Mineral RichesChinese mining conglomerates are now competing for strategic control of the global Lithium market, which until recently was controlled by the “Big Three” conglomerates including Albemarle’s Rockwood Lithium (North Carolina), The Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile and FMC Corporation, (Philadelphia) which operates in Argentina. While the Big Three dominate the market, China now accounts for a large share of global lithium production, categorized as the fourth-largest lithium-producing country behind Australia, Chile and Argentina. Meanwhile China’s Tianqi Group has taken control of Australia’s largest lithium mine, called Greenbushes. Tianqi now owns a 51-percent stake in Talison Lithium, in partnership with North Carolina’s Albemarle.

This thrust in lithium production is related to China’s rapid development of the electric car industry:

China is now “The Center Of Lithium Universe”. China is already the largest market for electric cars. BYD, Chinese company backed by Warren Buffett, is the largest EV manufacturer in the world and Chinese companies are producing the largest amount of lithium chemicals for the batteries. There are 25 companies, which are making 51 models of electric cars in China now. This year we will see over 500,000 EVs sold in China. It took GM 7 years to sell 100,000 Chevy Volts from 2009. BYD will sell 100,000 EVs this year alone! (Mining.com, November 2016 report)

The size of the reserves of Lithium in Afghanistan have not been firmly established.

Analysts believe that these reserves which are yet to be exploited will not have a significant impact on the global lithium market.

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  • Serious

    Poor Afghanistan. Look at all these west terrorists. Then, these westerners cry for the migrants. “Close the borders” they say. Yes, Afghanistan must close the borders and expell the west terrorists.

  • Serious

    Thje terrorism is created by the west to rob these people. That’s the bare truth.

    • Lumen

      Or did the Taliban in afghanisten create/train Terrorists .. hmm .. lets think about this …

  • Jesus

    US is out of its element in Afghanistan, now they want help from India to deal with Pakistan and Afghanistan. US is in the Chinese SCO backyard, and they do not have any real allies in the area, China Andy Russia with other SCO members will manhandle US policy and agenda.

    • Jan Tjarks

      It will be interesting to see how Daesh will fare in AF, as they are already having their new leader there, who came from a kingdom far far away, … erhh, from US prison.

      • Jesus

        I don’t think Daesh would survive against the Talibans and their Pakistani allies, Sunnis do not have much popular support in Afghanistan. The ISiS trick and its master pulling the strings, is quite obvious to the whole world by now.

        • The US will use their ISIL proxy forces to target the Taliban.
          Who might well reach an agreement with them and both will then kill Americans.

          (Cos I doubt those ISILs are very happy about all the American help they didn’t get establishing their caliphate – they learnt the same way Bin Laden did – exactly what American promises are worth.)

          • Jesus

            American promises are short lived, they are given to facilitate the immediate US agenda, without regards for negative long term consequences.
            US policy is myopic, without any a long term goal, always looking for an immediate result, regardless of consequences. This is a similar pattern of how US populous conducts affairs in their personal life.

        • Jan Tjarks

          What do their masters care how much the proxy gets beaten around, as long as they are there at least, being difficult to be knocked out. In AF there is no RuAF or SyAF to beat them out of their fortifications.

          If we see, at which rate Daesh is currently burning out its forces in Syria, they are feeding the last idiots, who still believe into this nonsense of IS, to the SAA. It wont take long until the mercenaries, who know very well what the game is about, are moved to AF instead.

          Their main target will be to cut Chinese influence, wherever possible, if clashing with the Taliban or others, doesn’t matter.

          • Jesus

            ISIS does not have the popular support base in Afghanistan, nor Yemen, like you said, they are hired mercenaries, they are easy to profile from the local population and eliminated. China has Pakistan to to use its “muscle” and influence across the border to deal with ISIS and Blackwater.

          • Jan Tjarks

            It can be fully expected that Pakistan will take matters into its hands. We will see how Daesh will deal with this, as we too can expect that Daesh will have to life with moles within their ranks in AF.

            Even if Daesh can’t handle the Chinese influence, it will at least keep the country occupied, destabilizing it, by this securing their masters bases.

            Hopefully Pakistan can outsmart this.

  • Cheryl Brandon

    How to fail in Afghanistan; 1( Warn the Talibans the USA plans to rip them of their own minerals and other resources 2. Try to LIE on Russia because, Russia has been outed their crimes on many occasions so, time to attempt to frame Russia. 3) Send less troops than they sent in Vietnam,which was a smaller country and they lost there as well; Even if they LIED to start that robbery driven War. 4) Ignore all REASON and WASTE more USATaxpayers, deny USA voters FREE Health care to fund the war for the few greedy rich 5. lie to the EU TO GET THEM TO SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO DIE FOR THE RICH AND THE MINERALS!

    • Hrky75

      Only to “fail” means that war gets outsourced to Erik Prince’s private army – because US establishment “cares” about US casualities LOL. And then the real bloodbath begins. With no legal ties to US government and no obligations to abide by Geneva conventions, Blackwater hired guns will kill everyone in order to secure mining concessions for US big business.

      • Jesus

        The footprint for the Blackwater hired guns will not be significant, the Talibans can become equally ruthless with them. China, Russia and other SCO participants will play a major role in containing US ambitions in the area.

  • Mr Trump and his grubby rich friends can eye away all they like but the Afghan people and the Taliban won’t make their robbery cheap or easy.

    And I wish the Taliban every success in making those thieves and murderers pay in blood.

    • Lumen

      Yeah, the Taliban as the last hope of the righteous People. :)
      I wonder how one can be so bigoted. On the other Hand – reality leaves you no choice to be like this. :)

      • The Taliban are rather stupid in some regards….
        Their “ideological principles” deny them half the country’s work force – and fighters.

  • Lumen

    Well, one thing is clear – with the Taliban in Power in Afghanisten there will be not the slightest sign of prosperity.

  • Bob

    Australia isn’t even in NATO, yet Australian politicians repeatedly send their forces to participate in North America’s ongoing wars, and sell it to Australian public on premise that this is just what a good junior alliance partner does to keep in good favor – and so all the endless US mission creep with shifting goals year after year, is simply not up for political debate in Australia.