Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 10, 2011

Iran's Gasoline Sanctions On U.S.-Afghanistan

Since July 2010 the U.S. is sanctioning companies which sell gasoline to Iran. Iran responded to the long announced sanctions by increasing its gasoline production capacity by some 50% and by lowering end user subsidies. Iran's production capacity will soon be 75 million liters per day while consumption has fallen by 13% and is now about 55 million liters per day. That leaves plenty of reserves and capacity for exports.

In May 2010 Iran still imported some 14 million liters per day. That fell to some 8 million liters per day in July after the U.S. sanction were activated, now Iran is a gasoline exporter. The U.S. gasoline sanctions against Iran failed!

As an exporter of gasoline Iran can now itself play the sanctions game and put pressure on the U.S. via its client state Afghanistan:

The price of fuel has risen sharply in parts of Afghanistan as an Iranian-imposed slowdown on tanker traffic at key border crossings has stretched into its second month, Afghan officials say.
Hundreds of fuel tankers are stranded at the country’s main border crossings with Iran, stopped by Iranian border agents, and the number making it across has slowed to a trickle. About 40 tankers a day are crossing the border at Herat, Farah and Nimruz Provinces, compared with 250 to 330 a day before, according to commerce and customs officials.

Those 300 tankers per day would carry about 6 million liters per day. About 40% of Afghanistan's total civil fuel imports comes from Iran and it is mostly consumed in the south. Officially Iran is concerned that part of that fuel is going to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It may indeed well be that some of that fuel is going to the U.S. military, but that amount would be too small an amount to be relevant.

According to a Deloitte study a deployed U.S. soldier is using up some 110 liters gasoline per day. Additionally there is one contractor for each soldier who will also need a lot of fuel. With over 100,000 men in Afghanistan, the U.S. military and its contractors must be using some 20,000,000 liters per day at a cost of $100 each (source (pdf)). One or two million liters skimmed off from the Iranian exports would not make a big operational difference (except for the dealers who manage that very lucrative transfer).

Iran will of course know this and I therefore believe that the real reason for this export ban is a different one. While the New York Times piece quoted above does not mention these at all (one wonders why), an earlier RFE/RL points to the more likely reasons:

Afghans affected by the resulting fuel shortages say they believe the crisis is Tehran's retribution for crippling sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security council this past summer. Analysts in Kabul link it to Iranian resentment over being left out of a multibillion-dollar gas-pipeline deal worked out among neighbors Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Tajikistan.

The TAPI pipeline, while now officially signed off on, is unlikely to be build as long as the conflicts in Afghanistan and the one between Pakistan and India are ongoing. For financial reasons it is dubious that it will ever be build at all.

That leaves retribution for U.S. sanction as the most likely motive:

[Kabul-based analyst Waheed] Mozhda says it is difficult to independently establish if any of the fuel may have been destined for use by NATO forces. But by closing the supply routes, he says, Tehran is clearly sending a signal to Washington in response to international sanctions imposed against the country over its controversial nuclear program.
"This is another example of how regional and global rivalries affect Afghanistan and lead to Afghan suffering," he says.

Indeed the Afghans will suffer from these sanctions as they will have to get through the winter with heating fuel and gasoline prices increased by as much as 50%.

But the pressure will also be felt by the Afghan and U.S. governments which will be held responsible by the Afghan people. Resentment against the Karzai government will grow, U.S. sponsored economic projects will not realize any gains and resistance to the occupation will increase. The already stressed U.S. supply routes from the north and from Pakistan will now have to carry additional traffic for civil fuel to the south.

I expect that Iran will keep the slowdown of exports to Afghanistan on for a while. If only to make the point that it is relevent for any solution of the Afghan conflict. It may want to keep the sanctions up at least until the next round of nuclear talks on January 20. Progress in the talks could then be rewarded by lifting the export slowdown. If the U.S. sticks to its hardline position on the 'nuclear issue', Iranian fuel exports to Afghanistan could totally cease.

That would be very bad for the Afghan people. But as Iran has only a few non-military levers it can use against the United States, it may have to use this one to counter the sanctions against itself. As usually, Afghans be damned ...

Posted by b on January 10, 2011 at 17:49 UTC | Permalink


excellent post b.

Posted by: annie | Jan 11 2011 3:23 utc | 1

Yes, like annie said, this is another informative post. This is the type of information never obtained through the U.S. mainstream media. And as usual, it is the people who suffer - another 'minor' detail always lacking in U.S. media.

Posted by: Rick Happ | Jan 11 2011 4:27 utc | 2

There are essentially two other routes into Afghanistan: through Karachi and overland or via Russia.
The Karachi route is regularly closed down and could very well disappear completely if the US gets the civil war it seems to want in Pakistan.
That leaves the route via Russia. My guess is that Iran would like to empower Russia to the point that it will defy the US in the Security Council, and in supplying anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.
In any case without oil supplies there is no US military in Afghanistan. The US forces are uniquely dependent on oil supplies for just about everything that they do. Cut off the oil supplies and they are sitting ducks.

Posted by: bevin | Jan 11 2011 4:36 utc | 3

what annie said.

Posted by: lizard | Jan 11 2011 5:57 utc | 4


A little snippet from a WL cable:

¶27. (S) Additionally, it continues to be in our best interests to use all available transit routes, to include Russia. Should we purposely choose to bypass Russia, then it is likely that Russia would pressure the Government of Kazakhstan to not allow supplies to transit Kazakhstan. It is our strong belief that including Russia as part of the NDN is a win-win situation and provides the U.S. an alternate route to resupply our forces in Afghanistan, however, we must remain aware that Russia could attempt to manipulate and gain exclusive control of the flow of supplies across its territory by undermining our efforts to expand our options with other nations.

Aviation fuel

¶28. (C) Since Kazakhstan has a limited refining capability, it imports most of its aviation fuel from Russia. Some of this fuel is in turn sold to Manas Transit Center, Kyrgyzstan. In this way, Russia indirectly provides fuel for Manas Transit Center and OEF operations.


Posted by: Biklett | Jan 11 2011 7:21 utc | 5

Biden on surprise Afghan trip for talks with Karzai

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Jan 11 2011 7:42 utc | 6

@bevin - there are at least five routes in Afghanistan. I discussed them some two years ago in this post.

(See how my predictions on "what Russia wants" came through)

Posted by: b | Jan 11 2011 8:44 utc | 7

Excellent article,makes a change from the half truths and crap that the western media mindlessly parrots

Posted by: sineva | Jan 11 2011 16:55 utc | 8

From the Afghan Pajhwok news agency: US watching Iranian blockade of Afghan fuel supply

by Lalit K Jha on 13 January, 2011 - 12:36

WASHINGTON (PAN): Amidst reports of tensions between Kabul and Tehran, the United States said on Wednesday it was closely watching Iran's blockade of trucks carrying fuel to landlocked Afghanistan. "We are watching closely that development," a State Department spokesman told reporters at his daily news conference in Washington. "Energy is a critical resource to any country and any economy, and it should be available at whatever the appropriate market price is," PJ Crowley said in response to a query about the blockade.
For the past 40 days, Iran has blocked the supply of petroleum to Afghanistan, alleging the fuel was being used by US forces in the country, a charge denied by Washington.
Afghanistan's Chamber of Commerce and Industries has threatened to cut commercial ties with Iran if the supply is not restored immediately.

Posted by: b | Jan 13 2011 12:09 utc | 9

A second story unfortunately behind a paywall:

Angry protestors stone Iranian embassy
13 January, 2011 - 15:57

KABUL(PAN): Hundreds of angry Afghans stoned the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Thursday in protest against the blockade of fuel tankers in the neighbouring country. ...(read more)

Posted by: b | Jan 13 2011 12:11 utc | 10

And third, also behind a paywall:

Iran asks Afghanistan how much fuel it needs
12 January, 2011 - 18:38

KABUL (PAN): The Afghan government must assess how much fuel it needs so Iran can allow exports to the landlocked country, the Iranian embassy said on Wednesday....(read more)

Posted by: b | Jan 13 2011 12:21 utc | 11

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