Defense Department Spent $43 Million on Afghanistan Gas Station

The Department of Defense constructed a $43 million natural gas filling station in Afghanistan, according to a new SIGAR report. An American flag is placed in a dirt-filled barrier outside a combat outpost in Arghandab Valley, north of Kandahar, on July 22, 2010. Bob Strong/Reuters

The Department of Defense spent $43 million of taxpayer money on a gas station in Afghanistan that should have cost no more than $500,000, according to a new report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).

Construction of the compressed natural gas filling station in the northern city of Sheberghan was run by the Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) and completed at an "exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers," John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a letter included in the report. A similar project in Pakistan costs no more than $500,000, said Sopko. According to SIGAR, the Department of Defense "asserts that it no longer has any knowledge" about TFBSO, an $800 million program that reported directly to Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, and which shut down six months ago.

The gas station was built between 2011 and 2014. Despite awarding a $3 million contract to a regional engineering company, the Department of Defense spent $12.3 million in direct costs and $30 million in overhead costs to fund the project, according to the report. The Department of Defense has been unable to show or explain why the project cost so much more than it was supposed to, said SIGAR.

SIGAR adds that there is no evidence the Defense Department conducted a study on the cost of the project before construction started. Afghanistan is not a suitable country for compressed natural gas filling station as it "lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary" to build such a project, according to the report. Compressed natural gas vehicles are also prohibitively expensive for most Afghans: Converting vehicles to compressed natural gas can cost between $700 and $800, while the average annual income for an Afghan is $690, according to the report.

"Unfortunately, SIGAR's review of this project was hindered by DOD's lack of cooperation," SIGAR said in the report. "In sum, it is not clear why TFBSO believed the CNG filling station project should be undertaken."

The Department of Defense did not immediately return Newsweek's request for comment.

The extremely costly gas station is the latest blunder exposed by SIGAR regarding the U.S. government's spending in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, SIGAR found that the U.S. spent $335 million on a power plant no one uses. Despite the billions of U.S. dollars spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan, including counternarcotics programs, the country still has the equivalent of 400,000 football fields worth of opium, Sopko said in May.