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Pentagon report in April never mentioned $1 trillion in Afghan wealth

Muriel Kane
Raw Story
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A RAW STORY investigation has revealed that a report released by the Pentagon last April on the progress of the Afghanistan “surge” included only a single passing reference to a survey that is now being touted as having discovered mineral resources in that nation potentially worth $1 trillion.

The lack of any mention of dramatic new discoveries is likely to reinforce suspicions that there is something bogus about the claim in last Sunday’s New York Times that “the United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself.”

The only reference to minerals in April’s 152-page Pentagon report occurs in a section of just two paragraphs devoted to the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), whose survey last fall supposedly revealed the newly-found resources.

“During a 12-week assessment,” the report states, “over 50 members of TFBSO teams conducted more than 60 individual site visits throughout Afghanistan, assessing many critical sectors of the Afghan economy. Four strategic observations were made during the 12-week assessment: Lack of economic sovereignty, lack of emphasis on rural agriculture, lack of economic benefit from international development, and lack of intra-Afghan commerce.”

“Afghanistan must develop self-sustaining, indigenous revenue sources,” the report continues. “Mining was specifically identified as a key area for economic development by the TFBSO because of its potential to attract foreign investment and generate significant government revenue. The group noted that accelerating this development will create an indigenous revenue stream for Afghanistan, and ultimately economic sovereignty.”

The relatively modest reference in the report to the possibility of “significant government revenue” contrasts strongly with the current hype over the TFBSO’s findings. For example, one ABC News story — which includes a photograph of a TFBSO geologist participating in last year’s assessment — is headlined “U.S. Geologists Discover $1 Trillion in Mineral Deposits in Afghanistan” and subheaded, “Even President Karzai Has Difficulty Imaging Afghanistan Potential Wealth.”

The story of new-found wealth has already aroused widespread skepticism, especially since a detailed US Geological Survey report on Afghanistan’s mineral resources was published as recently as 2007. Wired, for example, suggests that “the timing of the ‘discovery’ seems just a little too convenient. As Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy notes, the Obama administration is struggling to combat the perception that the Afghan campaign has ‘made little discernible progress,’ despite thousands of additional troops and billions of extra dollars.”

What may be an even more acute observation, however, was offered by Jim Lobe at Asia Times. “The Pentagon memo may have been an effort to attract international interest in the mining sector before the auction in the next few weeks of the 1.8 billion-ton iron-ore field in Hajigak, which could be worth $5 billion to $6 billion,” Lobe writes. “Afghan and Western officials want more companies to bid for Hajigak and other deposits to prevent China from gaining control over Afghanistan’s natural resources through bids subsidized heavily by Beijing.”

It is also possible that both theories are correct, since the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations has been devoted since its creation in 2006 to the dual mission of promoting local economic development to counter insurgencies while simultaneously furthering American business interests.

In December 2006, the Washington Post quoted one US official as saying of the newly-formed task force, “It’s about stimulating interest and getting contracts going between US firms and Iraqi firms. That’s the goal. The solution in Iraq is not primarily a military one. It is primarily an economic and political solution.”

“As Iraq descends further into violence and disarray, the Pentagon is turning to a weapon some believe should have been used years ago: jobs,” the Post explained. “Economic development is a departure from the military’s usual missions, but officials think the Defense Department’s heft as a consumer of goods and services can boost the effort. The department has been reaching out to U.S. companies that can place large orders for products from Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England set the task force in motion in June after Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense, returned from a visit to Iraq the month before.”

TFBSO’s mission of drawing on the free enterprise system as a component of counter-insurgency policy might seem like a quintessential Bush administration approach, but the Obama administration has embraced it just as enthusiastically. In March 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a memorandum continuing the Task Force and stating that its purpose was “to aid the Department’s on-going military operations and to fully leverage economic development as a strategic and operational tool.”

TFBSO continues to be headed by its founder, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation Paul A. Brinkley, but a couple of young Obama campaign workers have been added to its leadership roster. The current deputy director is Jacquelyn Rebekka Bonner, a former Goldman Sachs vice president who worked without pay for the Obama campaign for seven months. Rudi Shenk, formerly the Obama campaign’s national outreach director, is now TFBSO’s manager of indigenous industries.

In April 2009, the German paper Der Spiegel commented on Gates extension of the TFBSO, describing it as “a part-military, part-civilian body whose value was difficult to define, an experiment that took place, not coincidentally, during the rise of General David Petraeus.”

“Brinkley and Petraeus know each other, and one can assume that they get along well,” the article continued. “It is rumored that the general made sure that Brinkley’s group would survive the transition in Washington from Bush to current President Barack Obama. Petraeus needs Brinkley, and not just in Iraq. It doesn’t take much to imagine similar task forces in Afghanistan or crisis regions in Africa, in fact, in all asymmetrical conflicts.”

That extension of TFBSO’s mission to Afghanistan — and beyond — is already under way. The website of a private contractor, Defense Group, Inc., boasts that “DGI is supporting the OSD Task Force for Business Stability Operations (TFBSO) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and DGI personnel previously supported the TFBSO in Iraq. … As U.S. policy toward Africa continues to evolve, as marked by the raising of the new US Africa Command (USAFRICOM), DGI will expand its reach into selected countries on the African continent, where its experience is both broad and deep.”

Additional research was provided by Ron Brynaert.

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