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Greg Palast's Column

China and the US Are at Nuclear War in Afghanistan

The race for uranium is heating up.

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, "confidential".

Investigator’s Rule Number One: The most important facts are the ones that disappear.


On June 13, 2010, the New York Times splashed a big "scoop" across page one: A US Army survey discovered that Afghanistan has a load of untapped minerals worth a cool trillion dollars. Even the normally somnolent US press barfed over this “revelation”. The Daily Beast/Newsweek wrote, “Does the New York Times have rocks in its head?”

Journalists laughed at the obvious, that the Times was being used by the US military to suddenly disclose a treasure trove of cash in Afghanistan which would turn the war from a money pit into a money maker.

However, the story that Afghanistan had lots of exceptionally valuable dirt (lithium, coal, gold and “rare earths”) was already known by everybody and their mother. Some “scoop”. The Times had strategically revealed the not-too-secret secret that Afghanistan was the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” to help sell America on investing more blood and money in the Great Game.

Yet it felt to me like something was still not revealed. Something was missing. Something hot. Something nasty.

I started my search in the obvious place: CIA files. The CIA studies referred to geology reports – which do not exist.

Luckily, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) keeps an archive of “non-existent” national security reports. That is, IIT scans government paper documents, so they remain on the school’s shelves even after the government has quietly erased all of its own electronic versions.


Bingo! There, preserved in its electronic crypt, was the US Department of the Army’s “Country Study/Area Handbook” for Afghanistan created and updated between the years 1986 and 1998.

The introductory note is a bit creepy:

“The original intent of the series’ sponsor [the US Army] was to focus primarily on lesser-known areas of the world or regions in which US forces might be deployed.”

Why might the Army be deployed to Afghanistan? After all, this report was written up to a decade before the September 11, 2001 attack. Notably, there was nothing in the old report about al-Qaeda, the Taliban or terrorists. And it contains a list of minerals that the Times reported as new news many years later.

But with one notable exception: One mineral in the old list was missing from the Times scoop – uranium.

The Times had dutifully published the “secret” report of the United States Geologic Survey. It’s now public. I typed in “uranium”, except: The search "uranium" did not match any documents.

Odd that. The new report lists minuscule reserves of kaolin, the stuff used to make “china” teacups. But no uranium.

Could it be that uranium’s presence could not be proven? Or the veins too worthless to bother mining?

Nyet! A little further digging reveals the German government had secretly mapped substantial natural radiation in Afghanistan – intelligence then stolen by Soviet spies. Soon after, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and began taking out ore in secret, using only Russian miners. Afghan geologists figured out the Soviet game – and sold the info to the US military.


Blood for Oil Is So 2003. Now It’s Blood for Uranium.

Last week I noted that Barack Obama placed a new drone base in Niger, the major source of uranium for Areva nuclear supply corporation. Areva and its US partners will supply uranium fuel for all the new nuclear power plants Obama has recently approved. And therefore, a drone base in Niger: to protect Areva’s uranium mines which have already been attacked at least twice by al-Qaeda operatives in the Sahel. Without the drones, Obama can kiss his plan for new reactors goodbye.

But Niger’s not enough. Re-fuelling America’s current group of ancient nuclear plants will require more than the ore the French can suck out of Africa.

We could ask the Russians for some uranium, but that wouldn’t be pleasant. Russians are still humiliated over the sale of their old Cold War warheads to Areva’s US reprocessing plants.

That leaves Afghanistan – whose mother load has officially “disappeared”.

The Radioactive Truth About Obama

I was once asked by a radio host to explain why Obama was so insistent on a massive military surge in Afghanistan. I said, “Who the hell knows?”

That was before I saw the Army’s missing “Country Study” of the mineral bonanza. It’s simple, it’s cruel and it’s how the world works. As I’ve said, if you liked blood for oil, you’ll love blood for uranium. While Obama had little use for the Iraq war over oil, war for uranium is another matter altogether.


Bush and Cheney came from the oil patch. To oilmen, Iraq has “strategic” value. Obama comes from the nuclear power patch, Chicago, home of America’s largest nuclear plant operator and one of Obama’s largest backers, Exelon Corporation.

Exelon was created by investment banker Rahm Emanuel – a deal that created Rahm’s personal fortune – before he became Obama’s White House Chief of Staff. (Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago.) Exelon’s CEO was one of Obama’s earliest and largest fundraisers.

And David Axelrod, the man whose PR message of Hope and Change made Obama leader of the free world, made himself a leader of the PR world, says Bloomberg Business Week, by “operating from the shadows” to create fake “consumer” groups for Exelon.

Would President Obama really send Americans to die just for a bunch of uranium?

Of course not! The Drone Ranger must know Afghanistan also contains the only major supply of samarion not controlled by China. (Samarion, one of those “rare earths”, is required for the permanent magnets in smart bombs.) Ditto for neodymium, which F-22 Raptor jets must have for their laser sights.

China has slowly acquired over 90 percent of the planet’s rare earth production capacity, causing the Pentagon to poop in its pants, because even the US Military Dumplex has figured out that China won’t lend us a cup of neodymium so we can target their air force.

It’s worth noting that, immediately after invading Afghanistan in 2001, the US Army conducted an aerial mapping of virtually every square metre of the nation. The Army was not hunting for terrorist redoubts, but constructing a detailed seismic profile of each mineral deposit.


(US Navy Photo/ Petty Officer First Class David M. Votroubek) via

So now we can tie up another string I left dangling in my VICE report regarding my get-together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief peace negotiator, Yahya Maroofi. Maroofi mentioned that the US was furious at Karzai’s granting the first mining contracts to – you guessed it! – Chinese state companies – despite the massive payments by US corporations to Karzai’s family and political allies. (Indeed, Karzai signed with the Chinese partly because of the pay-offs, which made him furious.)

Karzai is prepared to give the Chinese a uranium concession.

It’s clear, the USA is badly losing this nuclear war with China.

It’s unfair, of course. Americans have died for this uranium, and killed for it.

Even so, Obama will certainly order our robo-rockets to protect China’s uranium mines. After all, weaponry for hire or sale, and Dreamworks films, remain America’s only secure export sectors.

And besides, Obama’s friends at Exelon may need to borrow a cup or two of that uranium from China to keep those elderly reactors pumping juice into Chicago – and juice into the Chicago political machine.

I know many of my good friends in the environmental movement have been hawking nuclear power as “green” and clean. There may be a grain of truth in that, as long as you ignore the large carbon bootprint of the 82d Airborne and the blood on the drones.

Frequently Asked Questions

- What is included in the online Country Studies? This website contains the online versions of books previously published in hard copy (with the exception of a born-digital study on Macau and an unpublished partial draft study on Afghanistan) by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress as part of the Country Studies/Area Handbook Series sponsored by the US Department of the Army between 1986 and 1998. At present, 101 countries and regions are covered. Each study offers a comprehensive description and analysis of the country or region's historical setting, geography, society, economy, political system, foreign policy and national security.

[Note: Badpenny found this from the old Army report but not at IIT – whose copy has now, interestingly, vanished. Uranium is listed near the bottom of the list – because it’s in alphabetical order.] Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast Previously – Blood for Uranium Is the Sequel to Blood for Oil