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KABUL – Insurgents are taking advantage of the country’s natural resources and using the proceeds in criminal ways, Afghan officials and citizens say, and now the government is working to halt these illegal activities.
“We don’t have any value of the stolen mines, because it is difficult to have the stolen data. They (militants) stole (them) in insecure areas,” Afghanistan Ministry of Mines spokesman Javed Omar told Central Asia Online.
“They stole different mines,” he said, but did not provide details of the stolen mines.
Afghanistan has more than US $3 trillion of mineral wealth, according to a 2010 Western geological survey. The country’s mineral resources include iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals, such as lithium.
The Afghan Ministry of Mines confirmed that unauthorized armed individuals are illegally excavating the mines and smuggling minerals. But a new programme was launched late last month to prevent illegal mining, said Omar.
The programme – which includes raids of Taliban mines and increased security at legal mines – started in Bamyan, a relatively safe area, and has been effective in stopping illegal operations in nine mines.
Two-pronged approach to smuggling
Afghan analysts said the insurgents benefit from illegal mining by directly smuggling minerals or by protecting smugglers in return for money, depending on the region.
“The Taliban are working hand-in-hand with the smugglers, supporting them in the areas under their control, in order to extract the country's mineral wealth and smuggle them abroad,” said Behroz, an Afghan analyst.
The insurgents’ illegal mining operations mostly take place in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the exploitation of the nation's natural resources brings in money that funds militant attacks that kill innocent people, he said.
The mining scheme is one of several illegal tactics the Taliban use to fund militant operations. Another is the drug trade.
UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) statistics show that rebels receive US $100m from drug trafficking every year.
Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, the Afghan Minister of Counter Narcotics said that opium cultivation had badly affected the Afghanistan agriculture production.
“If we stop opium production and replace it with other crops, Afghanistan will not need to import (food) from outside”, Behroz said.
The Ministry of Counter Narcotics of Afghanistan confirms that poppy cultivation, the production of illegal drugs, and insurgency in Afghanistan are closely linked.
And the rebels constantly fight with the Afghan security forces who are assigned to destroy poppy fields, said Ezzat Khan, a resident of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, one of the areas where poppies are cultivated.
The Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics, in co-operation with international security forces, is trying to prevent the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics and illegal drugs, ministry spokesman Abdul Qayyum Samer told Central Asia Online.
Moqbel announced at a news conference in late May that 50 Afghan security troops died and 90 others were injured in 2011 during anti poppy cultivation and drug trafficking operations.
About 131,000 ha of land were used for poppy cultivation last year, Moqbel said, and efforts have been made to prevent the cultivation of opium poppies this year. For example, about 10,000 ha of poppy fields were destroyed this year – three times more than in 2011 – Moqbel said, but he said more needs to be done.