Energy & Sustainability See Inside Afghanistan's Buried Riches Geologists say newfound deposits in the embattled country could fulfill the world's desire for rare earth and critical minerals and end opium's local stranglehold in the process By Sarah Simpson Moises Saman/Redux Pictures The scene at first resembles many that play out daily in the war-torn Red Zone of southern Afghanistan: a pair of Black Hawk helicopters descend on a hillside near the country’s southern border with Pakistan. As the choppers land, U.S. marines leap out, assault rifles ready. But then geologists sporting helmets and heavy ceramic vests jump out, too. The researchers are virtually indistinguishable from the soldiers except that they carry rock hammers instead of guns. A human chain of soldiers encircles the scientists as they step forward on the dusty ground. “The minute you get off, you go into geologist mode,” says Jack H. Medlin, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s activities in Afghanistan. “You forget, basically, that these guys are around—unless you try to get out of the circle.” This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.