| ||Afghanistan army to reach targeted strength by March|
By Hamid Shalizi
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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's army will reach a targeted strength of a trained force of 70,000 within four months, but that will be insufficient to stand against internal and external threats, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
Currently the Afghan National Army stands at around 57,000 out of the 70,000 target, set at an international conference after the Taliban's removal in 2001.
"We think we need a 200,000 (strong) Afghan National Army which is in the interest of both Afghanistan and the international community," defense ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said at a news conference.
He said a force of that size was needed to deal with possible external threats and to tackle the insurgency led by the resurgent Taliban.
It will also be much cheaper than the military expenditures by the nearly 50,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. army in Afghanistan, Azimi said.
"If the 200,000 are capable of providing security to the entire country, it will cost international forces less than the
expenses of their forces in Afghanistan," he said.
Azimi said the expenses of one foreign soldier was equivalent of 70 to 100 Afghan troopers.
The United States, which provides the bulk of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, is also the lead country in funding, training and equipping the Afghan army, which disintegrated in 1992 after the collapse of Kabul's communist-backed regime.
Foreign military commanders in Afghanistan say they will keep their troops in the country until the domestic forces can stand on their own feet.
Azimi said the United States will soon start shipping NATO standard weapons and helicopters to the Afghan army to replace its Soviet-era arms.
Afghanistan in the past two years has been going through its worst spell of violence since Taliban's ouster. More than 10,000 people including over 300 foreign soldiers have been killed during that period.
(Editing by Sayed Salahuddin and Jerry Norton)