VICENZA, Italy — The Italian government has agreed to let the U.S. Army use part of an air base near Vicenza to accommodate a significant increase in the Army’s presence in northern Italy, the U.S. ambassador to Italy said Monday.

The agreement marks a crucial step forward in negotiations that started nearly two years ago and intensified in recent months as U.S. planners looked for space to put as many as 2,000 more troops expected to arrive in the next decade.

The United States plans to spend $800 million in the next 10 years to build offices and barracks on the Italian air base, Tomasso Dal Molin, and support facilities such as schools and health clinics nearby, the ambassador, Melvin Sembler, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes.

Sembler, who is leaving his post, spoke after a ceremony in his honor. His replacement has not been named.

The agreement is part of the overall Army restructuring plan to expand the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and add a third battalion to the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

U.S. Army Europe’s commander, Gen. B.B. Bell, said the expansion will play an important role in the Army’s restructuring in Europe in the years to come, but he indicated that some details still needed to be worked out.

“While not all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, I believe we’ve made it over the mountain. I believe we have a consensus,” Bell said.

The U.S. Army will have sole use of a northern portion of the Italian air base, while the Italian military will use the southern portion, Sembler said. Like other U.S. bases in Italy, the Italian government will still own the land that the U.S. military uses, Sembler said.

“We’ll basically serve on Italian real estate,” Sembler said.

U.S. officials approached the Italian government about building on Tomasso Dal Molin air base about a year and a half ago, after NATO command offices left the base. Those talks became more serious after the Army announced its restructuring plans, which included additional troops to bring the 173rd Airborne Brigade up to staffing levels of other Army airborne brigades.

Sembler said officials with the Italian transportation ministry asked for more time in recent months as they studied which parts of the air base Italy would need, either for its military or for commercial use. But U.S. officials, who had considered other areas in Italy such as Aviano, pressed them to decide, he said.

“This is going to be a very good thing for Vicenza,” Sembler said.

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