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A former Italian president is questioning whether the U.S. should be allowed to move more troops into Vicenza.

According to online report by Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, an Italian news agency, Francesco Cossiga — who was also prime minister from 1979 to 1980 – has questioned the defense and foreign affairs ministries about the proposed American use of Dal Molin airfield in Vicenza.

The U.S. has been negotiating for more than two years with Italian authorities to use a portion of Dal Molin — a small civilian airport formerly used by the Italian military — in order to station the entire 173rd Airborne Brigade in one city. The 173rd has transformed into a brigade combat team in the last year and there isn’t enough space to house the entire unit at Caserma Ederle, the main U.S. base in Vicenza. Four of the six battalions in the brigade are currently stationed in Germany.

On Tuesday, Cossiga asked why the U.S. should be granted permission to bring in additional troops when its operations in Vicenza don’t fall under NATO auspices and possibly run counter to current Italian political will.

Cossiga, a senator for life because of his past service to Italy, asked “if the government … intends to reject the U.S. Defense Administration the permission of expanding their military base in Vicenza, which is not a NATO base, but an American one. …,” according to the AGI posting.

He argued that the U.S. presence in Vicenza has been granted more toward having a good relationship with America than fulfilling a NATO role that has largely been eclipsed by the fall of the Warsaw Pact.

The Southern European Task Force (Airborne), which includes Italian nationals in its chain of command, acknowledged it had seen the comments. A spokesman declined to comment on whether SETAF would agree with Cossiga’s interpretation.

“We don’t get involved in Italian politics, obviously, and everyone has a right to an opinion,” said Master Sgt. Todd Oliver from the SETAF public affairs office. “We’re going to continue to work with the Italian government towards a resolution on this.”

A new center-left administration led by Prime Minister Romano Prodi is now in power and has differed with the Bush administration on several fronts, a change from the former government led by center-right politician Silvio Berlusconi.

Cossiga said the nature of the 173rd — capable of deploying rapidly to support U.S. operations outside of Italy — meant that permission to expand would essentially condone potential U.S. operations that Italy might oppose.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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