U.S. Navy to remove forces from Sardinia
NAPLES, Italy — U.S. and Italian defense officials have agreed that the U.S. Navy eventually will remove all forces and assets from a base that supports nuclear submarines on the Italian island of Sardinia, though no time line has been announced.
On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino at the Pentagon for 30 minutes, during which Rumsfeld agreed to the withdrawal from La Maddalena, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said Wednesday.
“He agreed the assets would be removed, but it is part of the overall transformation and realignment of forces in response to threats now, and perceived threats of the future,” Carpenter said. “[Transformation] is not exclusive to Italy and not exclusive to Europe.”
There are no U.S. submarines permanently based at La Maddalena, but U.S.-based nuclear submarines routinely deploy to La Maddalena in support of U.S. and NATO operations and exercises, said Cmdr. Mark McDonald, a spokesman for U.S. 6th Fleet.
The base is home to Submarine Squadron 22, and the only U.S. ship based there is the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land, designed to repair and support the Los Angeles Class of attack submarines. The Land is one of two sub tenders remaining in the Navy; the other is the USS Frank Cable, based in Guam.
The Land has a crew of about 1,100 sailors and the base support has an additional 700, to include roughly 150 local nationals, he said. All told, with families included, the U.S. presence on the island is about 2,500 people.
“La Maddalena has provided mutual security benefits for the U.S., Italy and NATO for more than 30 years,” McDonald said. “But the U.S. had determined that the capabilities provided by the installation now are no longer required because of the shift in the security environment, the shift from a Cold War mission to a new set of security threats.”
La Maddalena, on the northern tip of Sardinia, provides the Navy with a strategic base to access the Mediterranean Sea and other points in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
The U.S. Navy established the base in 1972, and over the years, Italian support of the U.S. presence there has waned as protests swelled, especially after the October 2003 incident in which the nuclear submarine USS Hartford scraped bottom in the port of La Maddelena.
Though no one was injured and there was no environmental damage, the incident raised concern and fueled calls for U.S. withdrawal.
Renato Soru, Sardinia’s regional president and an outspoken critic of the U.S. presence there, called the decision “wonderful news,” according to Italian newspapers.
“We have won a battle with the force of reason because it was unreasonable that after 33 years the Americans remained at La Maddalena in the same conditions as in 1972,” Soru told Il Messaggero.
“We were waiting for this for 33 years, but no one expected a decision this early,” La Maddalena Mayor Angelo Comiti was quoted as saying in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
When U.S.-based submarines deploy to the Mediterranean, they operate as units under the U.S. 6th Fleet command.
Submarine Squadron 22 is part of Submarine Group Eight, which is commanded by Rear Adm. Carl Mauney, who also serves as the commander of Task Force 69 and as the director of Naval Forces Europe plans and operations.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.