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AFGHANS EYE MINERAL PROJECTS

The United States is promoting development of resources, which could be worth trillions.

Bloomberg News

LONDON - Afghanistan, sitting on as much as $3 trillion of untapped minerals, according to the government, is holding talks with companies on developing mineral and energy deposits.

The country plans to invite bids for deposits in late 2010 or early 2011, Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said at a briefing Friday for potential investors in London. Shahrani spent most of the time promoting the nation's Hajigak deposit, site of an estimated 1.8 billion metric tons of iron ore.

In an attempt to stabilize Hamid Karzai's government and support "economic sovereignty" against the Taliban, the United States is promoting development of Afghan resources, Deputy Undersecretary of State Paul Brinkley said on June 14. At the same time, the Taliban's growing ability to attack even sites such as the U.S. airbase at Bagram is discouraging investment.

"Security is the main concern, but clearly it was one of the first things they talked about and they've given it serious consideration," Michael Lynch-Bell, head of mining and metals at Ernst & Young in London, said after Friday's briefing.

Afghanistan plans tenders for more than five mineral and energy projects by the end of 2011, including gold, copper, iron ore, gemstones, marble, lithium, oil and gas, Shahrani said. The nation's mineral wealth may total $1 trillion to $3 trillion, he said. U.S. officials estimate untapped minerals worth about $1 trillion, according to the New York Times.

Shahrani said on June 22 he met with oil company officials interested in a field in the Afghan-Tajik basin that has an estimated 1.6 billion barrels of the fuel. They included Total, British-based explorers Heritage Oil and Sterling Energy, Toronto-listed Tethys Petroleum and Eni of Italy.

3 U.S. troops reported killed

NATO reported Friday that three U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. Two died Friday, one in an insurgent attack in the east and the other in an explosion in the south of the country. The third American died Thursday in a roadside bombing in the south. Afghan officials, meanwhile, said the bodies of 11 men, some beheaded, were found Friday. Also in the south, a joint force of Afghan and international troops killed a midlevel Taliban commander named Faizullah and other insurgents who were planting a roadside bomb near the provincial capital of Kandahar province on Thursday, NATO said. Some of the insurgents were killed by a coalition airstrike.

Associated Press

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