Donald Trump is sending more troops to Afghanistan, continuing the USA’s longest war. CEO Michael Silver, of the American Elements corporation, wrote a short op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, urging for the extraction of the country’s mineral resources. Afghanistan remains unstable. Many questions must be asked. The one on many minds is “Why is the USA in Afghanistan?”
Terrorism? Minerals? Or Something Else?
The USA has been occupying Afghanistan since 2001. Why? Both supporters and opponents of US Afghan policy give murky answers. Supporters of US efforts say they are in the country to fight terrorism and help the country rebuild and move toward democracy. Opponents of the occupation say the USA is seeking to control its rare minerals such as neodymium, indium, gallium, and lanthanum which are essential in making computer chips.
These answers are insufficient. As for terrorism, since 2001, the presence and strength of terrorist groups in Afghanistan has vastly increased. Al-Queda, ISIS, various warlords, Jundallah, and many terrorist groups, most of which had minimal presence under the Taliban government, are now all across the country. Even the Taliban itself, the government the USA toppled in the 2001 invasion, has not vanished, and still controls a large portion of the country. If the USA is in Afghanistan to fight terrorism, its efforts have not only completely failed, and but had the opposite of their intended affect.
So, is it all about the minerals? Is the USA seeking to get control of these vital rare earth elements which are key in making modern computer chips? Well, perhaps this is a factor for seeking to control the country, but its worth noting that in the entire 16 years of the occupation, the USA and its allied Afghan government have never moved forward with any plan for mineral extraction. Michael Silver, the CEO of American Elements wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on August 30th, essentially begging the US government to go ahead and “help Afghans exploit their mineral riches.”
If the occupation of the country were motivated purely out of desire to plunder the rare earth minerals, wouldn’t it have been done by now? 16 years is a long time to put off something, if indeed, it is the entire basis of the military operations. It is also unlikely that a CEO would publicly beg the President to do something, if it was secretly the entire basis for the operation.
In fact, talk of Afghanistan’s mineral resources and the untapped trillions to be made from them, didn’t show up in the media until 2010, nine years after the US invaded and toppled the Taliban. It was only long after the invasion that geologists were able to determine that such minerals were even in the country.
The rare earth minerals and the potential of extracting them, could certainly serve as an incentive for the continued occupation, but are not the primary cause. Neither is fighting terrorism.
A Strategic Epicenter for Chaos
A recent article in the New York Times noted the funeral of two CIA officers who had been killed in Afghanistan as the CIA has been moving “too the front lines.” According to the New York Times, the two CIA operatives had “advised a small army of Afghan militants,” essentially the CIA men were embedded into non-governmental armed groups. According to the NYT piece, this strategy had been used by the Obama administration “who embraced covert operations because of their small footprint and deniability.” The article also noted that the factions covertly directed and armed by the CIA “were at times accused by Afghan officials and others as a law unto themselves, running roughshod over civilians and killing innocents.”
While press reports give the impression that the USA is working only with the internationally recognized Afghan government to stabilize the country, the New York Times seems to point out the contrary. So, the question must be asked, as the country remains a mess of violence, with terrorists, drug cartels, and warlords slaughtering each other, which of the many armed groups have CIA agents directing them? The answer cannot be found in the New York Times article, and most likely is not public information. It should seem obvious, however, that covertly directing non-government militias of Afghans to kill other Afghans, is not a strategy for stabilizing a country.
In the analysis of this writer, the US occupation of Afghanistan is really about one thing: spreading chaos and antagonizing the surrounding countries.
But why would the USA want to keep Afghanistan unstable?
Look at a map. Afghanistan is located in central Asia. It is an impoverished, underdeveloped country that is landlocked. It borders the three top opponents of US power on the global stage, Russia, China, and Iran. Since 2001, not only has Afghanistan been a mess of terrorism, drug trafficking, and societal chaos, but this chaos has spilled over into the three neighboring countries.
Menacing The Russians
US operations in Afghanistan have almost always been related to Russia. At the time of the Russian Revolution, Central Asia was dominated by the British Empire. The British had largely de-forested Afghanistan, and had already introduced the scourge of heroin. The Bolsheviks happily embraced the government of Habbibula Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan who had stood up to the British, and kept the country neutral in the First World War. In 1919 the Afghan ambassador told Lenin “I proffer you a friendly hand and hope that you will help the whole of the East to free itself from the yoke of European imperialism.”
The Soviet Union saw bringing stability and development to Central Asia as a way to secure itself. In 1920, the Soviet Union famously sponsored the “Baku Conference” or the “Congress of the Peoples of the East” to offer their support to people in Central Asia and the Middle East who sought to break free from western domination.
After Afghanistan’s 1978 Saur Revolution, the Soviet Union immediately began pouring in aid. The Soviet Union sent soldiers into the Afghan countryside to help establish farms. Literacy campaigns were conducted as well, with Soviet volunteers teaching impoverished Afghans how to read. Democratic Youth Leagues worked to restore the forests, in the hopes that Afghanistan’s unique timber could be exported on the world market.
The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which existed from 1978 to 1992 sought to lift the country from poverty with Soviet assistance. Democratic Afghanistan established universities, built hospitals, and tried to modernize the country. Despite their Marxist-Leninist ideology, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party had no illusions that Afghanistan could become a socialist country at that time. They felt it was too poor. Their goal was simply to raise the standard of living with Soviet assistance.
Brzezinski bragged in an interview that by establishing an Islamist insurgency against the Democratic government, with the help of a young Saudi named Osama Bin Laden, he had “given the USSR its Vietnam.” The CIA worked with the Pakistani secret police to enable terrorists in Afghanistan to cultivate heroin.
The CIA strategy of Islamic terrorism and heroin in Afghanistan mirrored policy in Chechnya, where the USA and Saudi Arabia had already been supporting Islamic extremists who were involved in selling heroin and committing acts of terrorism intended to harm the Soviet government.
While the Taliban was internationally recognized for its efforts to destroy poppy fields and exterminate traffickers, the 2001 invasion marked a key moment for restoring Afghanistan’s position as the world’s supplier of heroin. Poppy fields went up like wildfire, and cheap heroin flooded the world market.
Since the US invaded in 2001, heroin has grown all across Afghanistan. Huge amounts of it are flowing into Russia. Furthermore, the terrorist groups that have long waged a campaign of violence in Chechnya, have cooperated with the terrorists in Afghanistan. Russian aligned governments in Central Asia face a growing problem of Wahabbi extremism.
Keeping Afghanistan unstable is certainly causing lots of problems for Russia.
Drugs and Terrorism Against Iran
Iran’s revolutionary guards are constantly working to stop narcotics from flowing over from the Afghan border. The poppy fields of Afghanistan, now booming and flooding the world drug market since the Taliban was toppled, have destroyed the lives of literally millions of Iranians. A report in 2006 estimated that 8% of adults in Iran are addicted to drugs. Another report suggested that 130,000 Iranians become addicted to drugs every year.
The majority of the people in Iran are youth, born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Heroin from Afghanistan is a mechanism used to feed into the cynicism and political confusion of this new generation that did not see Khomeni’s rise. The USA works to manipulate the alienation and confusion of young Iranians, much as it did with the artistic and intellectual circles in Eastern Europe in order to foment color revolutions during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The devastation of drugs accompanies satellite TV broadcasts, anti-government movies, and numerous efforts to confuse, demoralize, and manipulate the generation that will soon inherit the helm of Iran’s anti-capitalist government.
Furthermore, Afghanistan borders a region of Iran that has a history of religious differences with the Islamic Republic. The clerics who lead the Iranian government are Shia Muslims, and while Sunnis are allowed to practice their faith, they are not permitted to establish independent Mosques that could foment unrest or work to discredit the Supreme Leader.
Jundallah, a Sunni terrorist organization based in Afghanistan, has established as its mission, the overthrow of the Shia government in Iran. Jundallah works on the Afghan border, and has bombed and killed people across Iran. It is also involved in the heroin trade. In 2014, it was revealed that a Port Authority Police Officer from the United States had been working inside the Jundallah terrorist group, crossing the border into Iran from Afghanistan.
Spreading Chaos into China
The 20th century in China has largely been a story of struggling to break free from foreign domination, drug addiction, and poverty, and restore itself as global power. The first US military intervention in China, in 1900, was against the Boxer Rebellion, a nationalist uprising that lynched drug dealers and sought to promote traditional Chinese culture. Prior to that, the British had waged two “Opium Wars” in which they militarily forced China not to erect tariffs or block the importation of narcotics.
The Chinese government works relentlessly to make sure that heroin is never imported into the country. The majority of those who receive the death penalty in China are somehow related to drug smuggling.
China’s historically Islamic region, Xianjing, has been the site of anti-government terrorism in recent decades. Not surprisingly, this region also borders Afghanistan. Members of China’s Islamic Uiygir minority have sworn allegiance to ISIS and gone to Syria to fight the Baathist government.
Chinese leaders have expressed deep concern about their Afghan border, and the dangers associated with Afghanistan.
China, Russia, Iran: Stable Governments Facing Attack
Why does the US continue to target Iran, Russia, and China? Is it because they are unstable? No. It is because they are stable.
The Islamic Revolution of Iran involved a mass uprisings of the people. The government established in 1979 has nationalized Iran’s oil resources and used the proceeds to develop the country, and build up the domestic economy. While the bordering countries of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are quite dangerous, since the end of the war with Iraq, Iran has been one of the safest countries in the region. The life expectancy has increased. The economy is centrally planned.
Since 1949, China has brought 700 million people out of poverty. It has responded to terrorism and instability in the Autonomous Regions of Xianjing and Tibet by pouring in investment and infrastructure, providing the people with economic opportunity. Before the 1949 revolution, when Republicans said the USA “lost China,” it was a very unstable place. Now it is far more stable than ever before, and the second largest economy in the world.
Russia recovered from the financial and humanitarian disaster following the collapse of the USSR. Starting in 2000 with the rise of Putin, Gazprom and Rosneft, state controlled natural gas and oil companies, have been used to centralize and plan the economy.
China’s Alternative Strategy
These three Eurasian countries serve as bastions of stability, and more than that, they are competitors with Wall Street. Russia sells oil and natural gas on the international markets. Every barrel of oil sold by Russia, is a barrel of oil that could have been sold by a US or British oil company. Iran is also an oil exporter, and it has recently joined the natural gas trade.
While China does not have very much domestic oil, it is starting to innovate natural gas extraction, and it produces steel, copper, and aluminum more than any other country on earth. Cell phones produced by Huwai, the state controlled telecommunications manufacturer, are sold across the world. A stable China is also a competitor.
Michael Silver wrote “The Chinese aren’t evil, they are merely smart” in his op-ed, begging the Trump administration to extract Afghan minerals. As the USA sends in anonymous CIA operatives to work inside non-government militias, and conducts drone strikes that often kill civilians, China indeed has a completely different strategy for Afghanistan.
While China has not conducted any drone strikes in Afghanistan, many voices around the world are deeply impressed with its medical aid programs. China’s Red Cross Society has recently opened up its “Belt and Road Fraternity Fund” and is using the money to provide desperately needed surgeries to Afghan children under the age of 14.
Over 100 children have already traveled over the border in order to be treated in hospitals in the Xianjing Medical University in the Chinese city of Urumqi. China has also worked with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to establish similar programs to help Afghans by providing much needed medical care.
China and Iran have laid out a plan for Afghanistan called “Trade and Transport” at the United Nations. They have called for railway to built across Afghanistan in order to give the country port access. The hope is that textile factories and other industries can be established in Afghanistan, providing an alternative to terrorism and drug cartels.
It is very possible that Michael Silver’s pleas of the Trump administration, regarding the rare earth elements, will be ignored. He is correct that “exploiting” the mineral resources may help to stabilize the country, but the forces that push the USA to continue occupying Afghanistan, at great expense, seem to have other goals.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.