Afghan Mining Sector Could Fall Victim To Daesh

A recent Pentagon report stated that the emergence of Daesh in Afghanistan is of concern to the U.S., the coalition, Afghanistan, and other regional governments, as well as to extremist groups that have been operating in the region for some time.

The report stated that Daesh looks set to try to expand its presence in Afghanistan during the upcoming year. “It will compete for relevance
with the Taliban and other extant terrorist and insurgent groups,” read the report.

It stated however that Daesh’s activities in Afghanistan remain exploratory, with limited recruiting efforts but that although the capabilities of the Islamic State’s recently claimed Khorasan Province may be limited, the group is clearly attempting to gain a foothold in Afghanistan.

A recent report in The Diplomat points out however that there is speculation that the Afghan government is exaggerating the Daesh threat to draw increased foreign aid, but the group’s presence is undeniable, and the worsening security situation could pave the way for the group to enhance its operations

The Diplomat reported that Daesh’s motives in Afghanistan remain ambiguous, and it is unclear if the group is capable of holding swaths of territory while battling Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban. However, it is entirely possible that Daesh will seek to tap the country’s poorly monitored mining industry to fund their primary operations in Iraq and Syria, read The Diplomat’s report.

Afghanistan sits atop an estimated $3 trillion USD worth of mineral resources, ranging from copper and emeralds to rare earth metals. The majority of the country’s deposits are undeveloped, abandoned awaiting new contracts, or mined by local community members.

On June 8, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Daud Shah Saba told Afghan Members of Parliament that Daesh poses a “grave threat” to Afghanistan’s burgeoning mining sector. Saba stated that security challenges continue to prevent the government from monitoring 100 of 339 mining contracts. Meanwhile, international investors have backed out of several contracts or raised concerns over insecurity. Endemic corruption and a lack of coordination between various ministries and the Afghan National Security Forces continue to leave Afghanistan’s mines open to illegal activity, reported The Diplomat.

Insecurity in remote provinces, particularly Nangarhar, has already caused a significant spike in illegal mining in recent months. Officials in Nangarhar said in January that they fear all of the province’s mines will be looted if the insecurity persists. This year’s Taliban spring offensive is the most potent since 2011, and Daesh activity is seemingly highest in Nangarhar. As such, the situation in Nangarhar will likely continue to deteriorate in the next several months, read the article.

While it is unlikely that Daesh will seize control of large government and corporate mines, as they did with oil fields in Iraq and Syria, illegal community-mined mineral deposits are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Daesh has a noted proclivity for tapping into local resource markets not typically exploited by terrorist organizations. For instance, Daesh seized control of the Akashat Phosphate Mine in Iraq’s Al-Anbar province and cement plants in Iraq and Syria.

The illicit trade of gems such as emeralds and rubies or industrial minerals such as copper and chromite is big business with decades-old smuggling routes from all corners of Afghanistan, read The Diplomat.

According to a report released in April by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, illegal mining has cost Afghanistan at least $300 million annually since the fall of the Taliban regime. Historically, Pakistan has been the largest recipient of illegally mined Afghan minerals. Pakistan has no real incentive to stymie the illicit trade of minerals such as chromite, as it ultimately benefits the country’s construction and manufacturing industries.

The so-called Khorasan Province’s leadership is predominantly comprised of former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan members such as Hafez Saeed Khan and Hafiz Dolat Khan. As such, they have longstanding ties to militants and smugglers on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line, which would allow them to transfer illicit minerals across the porous border to vital shipping outlets, read the article.

Although there is no clear evidence to indicate that Daesh has begun exploiting the country’s lucrative mining industry, conditions are becoming more favorable as the security landscape continues to deteriorate.

Illegal mining has long been a source of income for militant groups across the country. Given Daesh’s propensity for exploiting natural resources and their expanding presence, it is easy to conceive that Afghanistan may be the next frontier for funding their operations elsewhere. With no clear strategy in place, it is unlikely that Afghanistan could prevent such financing activities in its more remote provinces. Either way, Afghanistan’s mining industry and economy will suffer with any expansion of Daesh operations, reported The Diplomat.

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