President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.
Prolonging America’s longest war would be a serious mistake for Trump no matter what the reason for it is, but to do it for the sake of resource extraction is remarkably foolish. No American security interest is still served by continuing the war in Afghanistan. Americans shouldn’t be sent to Afghanistan to fight and die for the benefit of mining companies. Indeed, the U.S. should be looking for ways to extricate itself from its open-ended war as soon as possible rather than trying to find excuses to stay. Trump would be wrong to do this, but it is unfortunately consistent with his “take the oil” approach to conflicts in Iraq and Libya. He doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with protracted foreign wars so long as the U.S. can “get” something tangible out of it, and like the crony capitalist that he is he has no problem using public resources to facilitate private gain.
It is also a fool’s errand:
None of these hurdles has been removed in the last eight years, according to former officials, and some have worsened. They warn that the Trump administration is fooling itself if it believes that extracting minerals is a panacea for Afghanistan’s myriad ills.
“It would be dangerous to use the potential for resource exploitation as a selling point for military engagement,” said Laurel Miller, a senior analyst at RAND who served until last month as the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The barriers to entry are really quite considerable, and that kind of argument could fuel suspicion about America’s real intentions in Afghanistan.”