KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The Afghan Taliban said it was directing its supporters to help advance national infrastructure projects like a natural gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan.
The Taliban, one of the main drivers of an insurgent campaign in Afghanistan over the last 15 years, said it was now directing its fighters to provide support for major government projects like the $3 billion Mes Aynak copper mine near the capital city and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-India-Pakistan natural gas pipeline.
The group, which refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, said it backs such major infrastructure projects and vows to defend them, provided such projects follow unspecified guidelines set out by the Taliban.
"The Islamic Emirate directs all its mujahedin to help in the security of all national projects that are in the higher interest of Islam and the country," it said in a statement.
A study supported in part by the U.S. Defense Department estimated in 2010 that there could be as much as $1 trillion worth of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium in Afghanistan.
A 2007 survey found an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of potential rare earth resources in southern Afghanistan. The international community gets more than 95 percent of its rare earth minerals from China.
The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, dubbed by New Delhi as a new "Silk Road," will transport natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad gas field. Pakistan's government said it needs outside support to ensure the pipeline's section through Afghanistan is secure.
The planned route of the project takes it through Afghanistan's Kandahar province, where the Taliban are fighting international forces and the Afghan government.
Critics note that Afghanistan doesn't have the infrastructure needed to host the pipeline and security in the country is a major concern. Last year, he Asian Development Bank approved $1.2 billion in grants to bolster the Afghan energy sector to be distributed in tranches over the next decade. The bank sees energy demand growing by nearly twice the rate of the economy in Afghanistan, though nearly all of its supplies come from neighboring countries.
The TAPI pipeline project has a long genesis. In 1996, a memorandum of understanding resulted in the establishment of a consortium led by Unocal, which was later acquired by Chevron. A Taliban delegation subsequently visited Unocal headquarters in Texas.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai worked at the time for Unocal.