KABUL, Afghanistan - It could take years and possibly even a peace settlement for Afghanistan to reap profits from nearly $1 trillion in uptapped mineral resources that U.S. geologists say lie beneath its rugged terrain - some in areas currently controlled by Taliban insurgents or warlords.
Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth. A U.S. Department of Defense briefing put a $908 billion price tag on the country's reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium - a key ingredient in products from medicines to cell-phone batteries.
If impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, foreign capitals will have another way to convince their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops.
Still, without increased security and massive investment not only to mine but to transport the minerals, it could take years for Afghanistan to bank the rewards. And there's always the potential that such a discovery could bring unintended consequences, including corruption and civil war.
"Obama's war just became more important and more complicated at the same time," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who helped advise the administration last year when it was rethinking its Afghanistan strategy.
Riedel said that if the U.S. can provide the Afghans security and logistics to build up its mining capacity, Afghanistan's international stock will suddenly become more valuable. But there are many complications - competing industries and countries, corruption and war.
"If this was Pennsylvania, it'd turn out one way," he said. "But this is Afghanistan."
Stephanie Sanok, who dealt with similar issues while working at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, likened the situation to a carnival game that promises a prize if you can guide a tiny, hand-controlled crane to the perfect spot: It almost never works and requires a steady stream of money.