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Republicans Investigate Taliban's Access to Critical Mineral Reserves

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 22, 2021 -

Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) led a Republican forum titled "Biden's Afghanistan Crisis: Forfeiting U.S. Investment in Critical Minerals to the Taliban."

"For 15 years, the U.S. Geological Survey spent more than $81 million to survey Afghanistan’s minerals and sent its scientists on more than 250 trips to research the country’s natural resources," Westerman said during the forum. "Through these efforts from the Interior Department and many other agencies, we spent more than half a billion dollars to develop extractive industries in Afghanistan. The country is known to be rich in rare earth elements, gold, platinum, silver, copper, iron, uranium, coal and several other minerals. In fact, the Defense Department anticipated Afghanistan to become the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium.' It’s estimated that Afghanistan’s minerals hold a combined value between 1 and 3 trillion dollars. That’s enough to even pay for President Biden’s absurdly priced reconciliation package. And after decades of investment in our Afghan allies, President Biden’s reckless withdrawal results in a forfeiture of American taxpayers’ time and treasure to a murderous regime – the Taliban... Now armed with U.S.-provided surveys and even intellectual capital from previous technical and legal support to stimulate Afghanistan’s mining industry, the Taliban is poised to expand its wealth and control over the country. Even before the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, it was estimated that the Taliban was partly funding its operations through illegal and artisanal mining. Without any government restrictions, the Taliban’s expansion of their mining operations is inevitable."

The panel of Republican members heard from three witnesses during the forum:

Dr. Joe Felter, research fellow, Hoover Institution, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania
Mary Hutzler, distinguished fellow, Institute for Energy Research
Dr. Hugh B. Miller, associate professor and research director, Colorado School of Mines

"Beyond the propaganda coup that the manner in which U.S. forces departed Afghanistan provided China, the absence of U.S. presence creates favorable conditions for China to exert influence and to profit… through… exploitation of weaker states’ resources for both profit and strategic gains," Felter said. "It is in U.S. interests to take all actions possible now to thwart China’s advances and to reduce dependencies on supply chains originating or controlled by China. Unfortunately, thwarting China’s advances in Afghanistan will be challenging given the limited leverage we have post U.S. troop withdrawal."

"The goals of the Biden administration will put an enormous demand on manufacturing companies for these minerals and/or their resulting products," Hutzler said. "The United States currently has little extraction and processing capability here or abroad to meet these future demands. And, the United States has lost a major opportunity to invest in Afghanistan's mineral wealth as that wealth is now under Taliban control. It allows China, which already dominates the global mineral supply chain, to invest in a neighboring country's mineral resources."

"Given the incredible work performed by the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the Afghan Geological Survey (AGS), the Afghan MoMP, and numerous international partners, there is little doubt that the country possesses a staggering inventory of potential mineral deposits encompassing a wide spectrum of critical and strategic minerals," Miller said. "I believe, as do many mining professionals, that the strategic development of this mineral inventory represents one of the few bright opportunities for the country to facilitate meaningful economic growth, stimulate employment and other commercial development, and improve the quality of life of the Afghan people. Unfortunately, recent events in the country have created tremendous uncertainty in regards to all the advancements that have been made over the last decade."            

Watch the full forum here.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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