The announcement Sunday by the Afghan government that geologists have discovered a mammoth oil field in northern Afghanistan may also have made the country a richer target for the Al-Qaeda terrorist group.
A basin located between the northern provinces of Balkh and Shiberghan could yield up to an estimated 1.8 billion barrels, according to Jawad Omar, spokesman for the nation's ministry of mines.
The initial survey was conducted by Afghan and international geologists, Omar told Reuters on Sunday, adding the country would offer the reserves for development along with other minerals in the coming months.
Other untapped resources include iron ore, copper, lithium, oil, gas and gem stones. The mineral deposits were valued at approximately $3 trillion, a bonanza that the government said it hopes will reduce its reliance on foreign aid, especially when NATO begins troop withdrawals.
However, the unstable security situation in the country, combined with a recent upsurge of Taliban activity in the north, could derail the plan for years and create a new funding mechanism for Al-Qaeda.
Funding Mechanism for Al-Qaeda?
While most of the NATO and government troops are deployed in the south, Taliban fighters have seized control of numerous remote villages across northern Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post. Security in the region has deteriorated rapidly, with Taliban fighters simply moving in wherever government forces or NATO troops are not present to stop them, and re-establishing Shari'ah (Islamic) law. Letters are distributed to the villagers, exhorting them to “Come together as one hand to defeat the infidels of the world, and make Afghanistan a Jewish and Christian cemetery.”
Meanwhile, the Afghan government and the U.S. Army are struggling to reassert control over the region, and keep it from falling entirely into a handshake between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Last month, a combined Afghan and U.S. force of some 400 troops, backed up by air force, launched an attack on Taliban forces in the town of Chenar, in the Marawara district of Kunar. The assault on Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in Marawara began on June 27, and has continued sporadically since that time. More than 150 insurgents were killed in the initial battle.
Marawara is located directly on the border with Pakistan and borders the Bajaur tribal area, a known haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups who are living in Pakistan. Bajaur has been used by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group as a command and control center for operations in the northeast, according to a report published in The Long War Journal.
Al-Qaeda deputy commander Ayman Al-Zawahiri has lived there in the past, along with Faqir Mohammed, the top Taliban leader in Bajaur and deputy head of the Pakistani Taliban.