Archive for June, 2010

The Great Game Changer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by stevemccurry


Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, 2006

The “Great Game” a term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim, to characterize the intense rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over dominance in Afghanistan and Central Asia,  seems particularly appropriate now that it has been revealed by the Pentagon that a trillion dollars worth of rare and valuable minerals deposits are in Afghanistan. But, this has not been a secret to many.  


Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan

Miners search for emeralds Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan, 1992

In January 1984 a report was published by the chief engineer of the Afghan Geological Survey Department about Soviet uranium mining in Afghanistan. It revealed that uranium production had begun after the discovery of deposits in 1983.

Soviet engineers were also said to be mining uranium  between Herat and Shindand, and also in  Kandahar province. The uranium projects were restricted to Soviet personnel in order to maintain secrecy and security. It is believed that all production was sent to the Soviet Union.

By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies. The Afghan government in the mid-1980’s was preparing to develop a number of these resources on a large scale with Soviet technical assistance. These efforts were directed primarily at the country’s large iron and copper reserves.

The iron ore deposits contained an estimated 1.7 billion tons of mixed hematite and magnetite, averaging 62 percent iron. These reserves, among the world’s largest, are located almost 4,000 meters up in the Hindu Kush,  in Bamiyan Province.

Source:  Illinois Institute of Technology

Charikar, Afghanistan, 2002, NYC65502, MCS2002002 K296final print_milan

Charikar, Afghaistan, 2002


Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

A 2007  report by the USGS said most of the data on Afghanistan’s mineral resources was produced between the early 1950’s and 1985. The timing of the Pentagon’s announcement is interesting because  the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007.



Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines has information on this website about mineral deposits in the country  .


Coal Miner, Pul-i-Kumri, Afghanistan, 2002

Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

There is little doubt that the new version of the Great Game will include all the players during Kipling’s time, plus the U.S., China, India, and any other country who seeks an advantage in obtaining a slice of the Afghan pie.  There will be “invaders” waiting to pounce on any opportunity that presents itself.

We can only hope that the Afghan people who have suffered for decades, will get the benefits they so richly deserve.


Steve  McCurry with Coal Miners, Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


More is Less in Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 2, 2010 by stevemccurry

The Law of Diminishing Returns


West Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995


Recently General McChrystal was quoted as saying that Marjah in Helmand Province is a bleeding ulcer.  McChrystal is under pressure from every side to produce better, faster, and more effective results.  We have more troops in Afghanistan than we have ever had, and yet the security situation continues to deteriorate.  Many don’t know what the mission is and wonder how they will know when the mission is “accomplished.”


Nangahar, Afghanistan 1989



Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995


As much as outsiders have tried to create the country in their own image, Afghanistan  has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers and remain essentially the same. The interesting thing  is that the people trying to change it often change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of well-meaning governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.


Uzbek fighters, Kabul, Afghanistan, 1992



Afghan Mujahadeen with surface to air stinger missile, near Jalalabad 1989

Over the years, I have been back  dozens of times on assignment for National Geographic, Time Magazine, ABC News, and other news outlets.  I have spent time in Afghanistan during invasions, retreats, truces, and relative peace. Almost every time I returned, the power centers had shifted.


Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002, U.S. soldier with an interpreter punishing an Afghan recruit by making him crawl in the mud.


Kabul, 2002

Today we have many more soldiers, contractors, and NGO’S than we did five years ago, yet it is far more dangerous today than it was then. We are getting fewer results with more boots on the ground. That tells me that we do not understand the country, the people, the history, the terrain, the language, the religion, the culture.

Everyone wants Afghans to live in a peaceful country where families and communities can thrive, but our strategy to achieve that goal is often built on misunderstandings, faulty assumptions, and a stunning ignorance of the lessons of history.

No one knows how long the bleeding ulcer will keep bleeding, but if history teaches us anything, it is that Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union.


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