After a session marked by animated discussions Thursday, the Vicenza city council narrowly approved a measure to allow the U.S. to double the size of the American military presence, said Fabio Carraro, the city mayor’s press secretary.

Thursday’s “yes” vote — 21-17 in favor of letting U.S. forces expand Caserme Ederle and use Dal Molin airfield — was cast pretty much down party lines, with the center-right voting in favor of the proposed expansion and the center-left opposing it, Carraro said. The council has 41 members. Two abstained, and one was not present.

The U.S. military expansion issue has been controversial, exacerbated lately by what U.S. officials called false information printed in Italian media, which prompted the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) commander, Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, to hold a news conference in early October to dispel misconceptions.

Helmick was clear on the facts: No tanks. No spy planes. No multiple missile launching systems. No use of the airfield to deploy troops. No takeover of Italian jurisdiction.

The command is “pleased with the outcome of the vote. It’s great to see democracy at work,” SETAF spokesman Maj. Ryan Dillon said Friday.

The council’s vote is an important step in the process, and American personnel would continue to work with their Italian counterparts at the local and national level, Dillon said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said

The vote came at the behest of Italy’s Defense Ministry. The center-left now holds the power of Italy’s government, led by Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who succeeded Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi favored the U.S. proposal, but there reportedly was no official agreement. The two countries have spent more than two years in negotiations, and U.S. officials said they had a basic agreement in place in 2005.

The town council vote came with some conditions that Carraro said the majority hopes the Italian government will respect. Stipulations include that Dal Molin, an airfield northwest of Caserma Ederle once used by NATO forces, won’t be used to launch military airstrikes. U.S. officials repeatedly have said that they plan to continue to use Aviano Air Base as the launching point for the 173rd Airborne Brigade and other SETAF units.

Aircraft used by military personnel who fly in and out of Vicenza would be limited to helicopters and small planes, similar to the commercial aircraft that currently use Dal Molin, Dillon said.

The council also wants the U.S. government to pick up costs for beautification projects, the building of housing units and barracks, and maintenance costs for projects such as roads, Carraro said.

Dillon said he was not aware of any conditions passed along with the council’s vote, but that the command would do all it could to take on concerns expressed by those both for and against the proposal.

The U.S. would use portions of Dal Molin as office space and housing for single soldiers. There is no room for growth at the main American base, Caserma Ederle.

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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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