LONDON (Reuters) - Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on Thursday he hoped Denmark could withdraw many of its 700 troops from Afghanistan by 2015, or even sooner. Denmark joins a growing band of NATO nations setting target dates for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, reflecting domestic unease over the rising death toll in the war against Taliban insurgents.
Rasmussen has previously avoided setting an exit date.
“I also share the vision, or the wish, that we can withdraw the troops in the sense of not having large numbers (of combat) forces in Afghanistan in (20)14/15,” Rasmussen told a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“I even hope we could withdraw troops before that. This is not a promise, this is something I wish,” he said, speaking in English. “If we stick to our strategy, I’m sure we can actually achieve this.”
Most Danish troops in Afghanistan are in the southern Helmand province fighting alongside Britain’s 10,000 soldiers.
Cameron, in office since May, repeated that Britain would not have large numbers of troops in Afghanistan by 2015.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Rasmussen’s predecessor as Danish prime minister, has opposed setting timetables for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, saying it could encourage the Taliban to step up attacks on the coalition.
The Taliban view pullouts or talk of timetables as a sign they are winning the war.
After holding talks with Cameron at his Downing Street office, Rasmussen voiced hope that the U.S. troop surge and a strong focus on building up Afghan security forces would “turn the tide” in Helmand.
“It is hard times in Afghanistan, but still we are making progress and we have to be patient about this,” he said.
Rasmussen, who must hold elections by November 2011, faces frustration at home over the death toll of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan, which has now reached 36.
Opinion polls show Rasmussen’s center-right coalition government is likely to face a tough electoral challenge from the Social Democrat-led opposition which is more critical of Denmark’s participation in the Afghan mission.
The Netherlands began pulling its 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan on August 1 after a political row brought down the Dutch government.
Additional reporting by John Acher in Copenhagen