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Army officials in Vicenza, Italy, issued a terse statement to rebut what they say is misinformation printed by an Italian weekly magazine that has stirred up a political frenzy over the main Army base in northern Italy.

The magazine, L’espresso, published what it said were details of U.S. military expansion plans for Vicenza in its latest edition, which hit newsstands Friday. The seven-page report, titled “At Vicenza Bush commands,” claims the U.S. military plans to send Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and missile launchers to Vicenza.

The article also says 6,000 soldiers currently are stationed there. It does not attribute the printed information to any officials.

“There will be no M1 tanks, no M2 Bradley armored personnel carriers, no self-propelled artillery or self-propelled mortars, no MLRS Rocket Launchers, and no Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Vicenza,” reads a portion of a statement issued late Friday by the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) press office.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, is expanding, adding troops and new and enhanced capabilities in the process. The brigade will have more than 3,000 soldiers, up from about 1,500 currently stationed there.

Currently, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is stationed and training in Germany. All told, once the brigade is consolidated in Vicenza, the base population will increase to roughly 5,000 soldiers, including the SETAF headquarters, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and supporting units, the Army’s release states.

The article states the U.S. military intends to take over the nearby Italian Dal Molin airfield. But details of the touchy political issue still are being discussed by U.S. and Italian officials, the Army statement said.

It aded that the Dal Molin site, where the four battalions and brigade headquarters are programmed to be stationed, covers approximately 100 acres, and would not be the largest military base in Europe, as L’espresso claims.

In its most specific statement to date on the Dal Molin issue, the U.S. military stated: “The airstrip at Dal Molin will remain under the control of Italian Military and Civil authorities. We will not use Dal Molin for military cargo aircraft or military deployments. Aviano Air Base will remain our deployment airfield.”

L’espresso said Dal Molin would serve as the “nerve center for emergency war activities anywhere in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan included.”

According to ANSA, an Italian news wire service, the L’espresso story is spurring Italian political parties to push Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to halt the project.

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