And the $37m that was spent directly on such projects included more than $6m used to build and maintain patrol bases and other military and security facilities used by the Afghan forces or shared with them.

The remaining $215m has been spent on ‘the net additional costs of ADF personnel, support and associated costs’, including protection in the dangerous environment of Oruzgan province.

The extraordinary cost of delivering aid in Afghanistan through the ADF was revealed in an answer to a written question asked by Greens leader Bob Brown during the Senate estimates process.

Oxfam executive director Andrew Hewett said aid distributed by the armed forces of many countries tended to be much more expensive than that delivered by civilian organisations.

‘Looking at trends from Rwanda to the tsunami, there’s been studies done that show the cost to the military is about eight times more expensive in providing basic services,’ he said.

‘Obviously in a country like Afghanistan you’ve got to spend some money on security, and that’s not cheap, but the day-to-day cost of military-delivered assistance on a global basis tends to be more expensive than when it’s delivered through non-military means.’

Australian Council for International Development executive director Marc Purcell said the cost of delivering aid via the military was generally much higher than using non-government organisations or civilian public servants.

Mr Purcell said another concern about the ADF’s aid program was the lack of any public evaluation process to ensure the money was being well spent.

Organisations such as AusAID were, by contrast, very heavily scrutinised.

And assessing the cost-effectiveness of the ADF program depended to a great extent on whether Defence viewed the aid as a strictly humanitarian exercise or part of its counter-insurgency strategy, he said.

At the time of going to press, the ADF had not responded to inquiries. But an AusAID spokeswoman said Australia’s aid to Afghanistan was being delivered effectively and it had contributed to real development gains there over the past 10 years in education, training and health and through activities such as clearing of landmines.