Iran and the Taliban have divided up between them the task of depriving Afghanistan and US-led forces of fuel, especially gasoline and diesel, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report. Iran is blocking the transition of fuel convoys into Afghanistan, while Taliban is torching fuel US Army and NATO tanker convoys waiting to cross from Pakistan. The result is scarcity and soaring fuel prices.
Tehran is bent on revenging itself on America for the Stuxnet virus crippling key its nuclear facilities – reportedly devised as a joint US-Israeli undercover operation. And there is more retribution to come.
For now, Afghanistan is getting the rough edge of Tehran's ire, but there is no secret about its true target. Earlier this month, Iran's Ambassador to Kabul Fada Hossein Maleki voiced concern about reports that fuel consignments for Afghanistan were supplied to NATO forces. "We are very worried about it and we have conveyed this concern to Afghan officials," he said.
Not only is there no sign of Tehran letting up on its fuel war on the US through Afghanistan, but our sources report the scarcity is about to become more acute. Last week, Iran sent the Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qasem Suleimani to meet in secret with Taliban commanders arriving from Pakistan to persuade them to go back to the torching of NATO fuel convoys they practiced in September and October 2010. The meeting was conducted at the Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval base at Chabahar in southern Baluchistan, home to Iran's special marine forces for invasions.
Iran furnishes Taliban with intel and cash
Intelligence sources estimate that the meeting lasted two days, Saturday-Sunday, January 8-9. The Iranian side handed Taliban intelligence updates on the movements of US fuel tankers along with fistfuls of cash to bankroll the coming wave of attacks. Less than a week later, on Saturday, January 15, four armed men made a bonfire of 14 fuel tankers parked by a restaurant in the southwestern Pakistani town of Dera Murad Jamali. Only two trucks parked off to the side were unnoticed and survived the blaze.
Monday, Jan. 17, the Iranian embassy in Kabul, responding to protests against fuel shortages and soaring prices, especially in Kabul and Herat, admitted that a blockade was in effect: “Currently 16 fuel tankers are waiting at the Meelk-Dogharon border… for their turn to enter Afghanistan," he said, promising "they will enter Afghanistan's soil during next few days after legal formalities are completed."
The pretext offered by the embassy? Afghanistan's Ministry of Commerce and Industry had not announced the country's required fuel.
From the last week of December 2010, therefore, hardly a barrel of Iranian oil has passed through the border into Afghanistan. Since Iran normally covers 30 percent of Afghanistan's gasoline and diesel needs, the blockade has triggered a 70 percent hike of fuel prices and is forcing US and NATO forces to import larger quantities of fuel for their troops instead of buying it from the Kabul government.
Fuel scarcity could slow down war effort
If the stoppage of Iranian oil imports and attacks on fuel convoys continue, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources predict a substantial slowdown in the US-led war effort in Afghanistan. Resources will have to be diverted to supply the population with enough heating fuel to weather a particularly harsh winter, which the ordinary Afghan cannot find or afford even when available. Angry demonstrations have erupted in Kabul and Heart over the fuel shortages and soaring prices.
On January 10, the Iranian economics minister Seyed Shamseddin warned Afghanistan against letting Iranian fuel be used by "foreign forces."
On Tuesday, January 18, Afghani business leaders pressured by President Hamid Karzai and the American command in Kabul, announced a counter-boycott: Until Iran resumes its fuel shipments, they will not make purchases and business deals with Tehran.
This, of course, is no more than a token step. Most Iranian trade with Afghanistan is transacted through local Afghani businesspeople living in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan that border on Iran. Neither Kabul nor American commanders can force them to give up their livelihood for long.