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Despite a lengthy history of small-scale mining of gems, gold, copper, and coal, systematic exploration of Afghanistan's mineral resources did not begin until the 1960s. In the 1970s Afghanistan was discovered to have a wide variety of mineral resources, but only coal, iron ore, copper ore, and gemstones were targeted for development. Natural gas fields are scattered throughout much of Afghanistan. Recent analysis by the United States Geological Survey has indicated significant unexploited oil reserves in the north as well. After their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Soviets endeavored to export some of the country's resources to the USSR. Natural gas, for example, was exported by pipeline across the Amu Darya into the USSR in the 1980s. Ongoing hostilities, however, severely hampered this effort and finally cut off the natural gas export. By the mid-1990s there was little mineral or oil and gas extraction.

The world's potential reliance on lithium - the silvery white metal used to make batteries powering electric vehicles, laptops and cell phones - has turned investor attention to unstable Afghanistan, which is sitting on vast deposits. "We have more than enough lithium in the world to cover global demand, even as it grows at a clip, and from much safer sources," the investor newsletter Energy & Capital said over the weekend, calling Afghanistan "The Saudi Arabia of lithium."

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