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Afghanistan: Rare Earth Elements Could Beat the Taliban [Slide Show]

Vast deposits of rare earth and critical minerals found in Afghanistan by U.S. geologists under military cover could solve world shortages and get the country off opium and out from under Taliban control. Photos show their gutsy excursions

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LOOKING AHEAD:

From a high vantage point, this geologist can see what is almost certainly a continuation of the same rare earth–rich rock formation the team sampled. The full deposit may be double or triple what the geologists have been able to map so far.....[ More ]

PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF:

The scientists finally discover a promising seam of mustard-colored rock (shown here with a hand lens for scale). Later, lab work bears out the geologists' prediction: the enrichment of light rare earth elements in this sample is on par with ore mined at Bayan Obo in China, which currently produces 97 percent of the world's rare earth element supply.....[ More ]

NEEDLE IN A DIRT STACK:

Rough terrain forces the geologists to hike up a dry stream bed. The rocks containing desirable elements are invariably sandwiched between less interesting ones, all of which protrude only intermittently.....[ More ]

ON THE TRAIL:

With a perimeter established, marines allow geologists to remove their helmets, but the human chain of soldiers continually encircles them as they pursue clues in the rock.....[ More ]

HARD HAT ZONE:

Like the soldiers, geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey sport helmets and heavy ceramic flak vests even as they discuss the mining potential of a large outcrop. Each investigation is limited to an hour so that hostile forces do not have time to organize and descend.....[ More ]

SNIPER STANDS GUARD:

Rocks flush with rare earth elements, crucial to high-tech manufacturing, are situated close to a dead volcano near Khan Neshin. The landscape is tricky enough for a geologist to navigate, but U.S. marines also protect against the possibility of hostile militants hiding around the next crag.....[ More ]

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