Going for gold 

The war in Afghanistan has little to do with bin Laden

Before another American soldier picks up a rifle and disembarks for Afghanistan; before we drop another bomb, launch another rocket, or fire another bullet; before another American taxpayer sends in another dollar to the Internal Revenue Service; before another member of Congress votes for the pending $33 billion appropriation for continued funding of the Afghanistan War, the American people deserve an explanation of what the Pentagon revealed about the mineral potential of that country, and why our military is so interested in enabling its exploitation by Corporate America.

Early this week the New York Times published an intriguing article titled, "U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan." If you were looking for a reason why the United States is involved in what is now the longest war in its history, this article will give you plenty to think about. Namely, there's gold—and lithium, niobium, iron, copper and cobalt—in them thar hills. Them thar hills, by the way, would be the Hindu Kush mountains, one of the most forbidding and dangerous places on the face of the earth.

In the old days, the British Empire would merely send out its warships, push the local natives out of the way and take whatever they wanted from other nations around the world. If the natives resisted, well, that's what's meant by superior firepower and, for God and Queen, if they wanted a fight then the Royal Marines were more than glad to send "the bloody wogs" to their maker.

These days, the modus operandi remains essentially the same, only the flag and war machines have changed. Now, it's no longer Brittania Rules the Waves; it's the vast might of the American military that reaches deadly tentacles across the globe, maintaining 800 bases worldwide and sucking down about half of the nation's annual budget in the process.

Shortly after 9-11, President George W. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan claiming he was "on the hunt" for Osama bin Laden, who claimed to mastermind the attack. While this nation's penchant for bloody vengeance is well known, many questioned why we were going into Afghanistan when, in fact, most of those who flew the jets into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were from Saudi Arabia.

One of the reasons offered by a number of writers was that Afghanistan was a critical pathway for a planned Unocal pipeline to bring oil and gas from Central Asia. The history of this particular project is well documented and need not be repeated here. But with former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in the vice president's office secretly meeting with his cadre of energy company advisers, it didn't take long before clever pens termed the country Pipelinestan and correctly identified the true motive as simply another attempt to fill our insatiable appetite for oil and gas while making a handful of corporations billions of dollars.

Of course the true patriots soundly denounced those who made such suggestions as terrorist sympathizers, backed up by a bellicose President Bush who brazenly declared: "You're either with us or against us."

But now those accusations don't seem so off-base. Bush has come and gone, as have at least a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives. Yet, the war drags on, heading into its tenth year and, by most accounts, we're losing badly. The flaunted Marja offensive a few months ago was a flop, and the Pashtun fighters are once again re-occupying the territory we failed to secure with our "clear and hold" strategy. A new offensive to repeat the same failure is set to begin in Kandahar, said to be a Taliban stronghold.

So if you're losing the war, the public is increasingly dismayed and Congress is starting to ask too many questions, what do you do? Well, if you're the Pentagon, you spend taxpayer dollars to conduct aerial surveys of the mineral wealth that's sitting beneath the arid soil of Afghanistan. Hopefully, that will convince both the populace and their elected representatives that there's a pot of gold, literally, at the end of the war if only we can keep funding it into the foreseeable future.

And why not? A backward country suffering from 20 years of war is suddenly told by its foreign occupiers that it could be "the Saudi Arabia of lithium." From the corporate point of view, how sweet is it having the Pentagon and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) do the taxpayer-funded work for them so they can roll in when the time is right and grab the gold? Even better, there are virtually no environmental or workers' rights laws in the country, so no need to worry about the well-being of the natives or the water, air or land while Corporate America happily bleeds the nation of its resources. Just like the good old days, mate!

It sounds too unreal, too primitive, too contrived to be true. But to quote the Times article: "The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development...and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors."

Ironically, this is not new information. Here's a clip from a 1986 study from American University: "Afghanistan has reserves of a wide variety of nonenergy mineral resources, including iron, chrome, copper, silver, gold, barite, sulfur, talc, magnesium, mica, marble, and lapis lazuli. By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies."

It is clear that we are being consciously manipulated by the Pentagon to continue a senseless war. The decision is now ours to make. Since this is no longer about national security or freedom, the choice seems equally clear: No more bullets, no more blood, no more dollars—get us out of Afghanistan now.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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