US soldiers mistakenly stormed a plant producing vegetable oil equipment in Bulgaria during a NATO training exercise last month, leading to criticism from America’s Eastern European ally and a lawsuit from the factory owner.
US soldiers entered and cleared a building next to an airfield in southern Bulgaria that they believed was part of the military training area, the US Army said in a report statement Published Tuesday.
But there were Bulgarian civilians “doing private business” in the building, adding that no weapons were fired at any point during the interaction.
The incident occurred during a U.S. Army-led NATO multinational military exercise on Nov.
As part of the exercise, the soldiers simulated the seizure and security of the disused airfield in the city of Cheshnegirovo, the statement said.
“We sincerely apologize to the company and its employees,” she added. “We always learn from these exercises and fully investigate the cause of this failure.”
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The statement did not identify the company, but the Associated Press released a surveillance video shared by KIM Engineering Ltd of soldiers in camouflage uniforms with guns drawn through a factory-like facility.
KIM Engineering Ltd manufactures vegetable oil refining equipment, according to its website, and is located next to Cheshnegirovo Airfield.
Company owner Marin Dimitrov has now filed a lawsuit in connection with the incident, Associated Press reported.
He called the raid “an illegal invasion of private property” and said he was insulted and humiliated.
“It’s like we’re bandits, criminals, even though we’re doing normal activities,” added Dimitrov.
“Seven armed soldiers enter and point their weapons at the workers,” Dimitrov told the news agency. “The cameras show that the worker is raising his hands, they said in English to sit down, of course my people obey, they are very scared.”
NBC News approached Dimitrov for a comment.
The incident also sparked outrage among Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.
Bulgarian TV channel NOVA quotes Radev It is “absolutely unacceptable that the life and tranquility of Bulgarian citizens is jeopardized by military units, whether they are part of the Bulgarian or foreign armed forces,” he said on Monday.
Exercises with allies on the territory of Bulgaria should help build security and confidence in the collective defense, not fuel tension, Radev added, according to NOVA. He also called for a thorough investigation and disclosure of the names of the officers responsible for the incident.
NBC News has approached Radev’s office and the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior for further comments.
Bulgaria and the United States are NATO allies. The block referred NBC News to the US authorities for comment as the exercise was US-led.
Bulgaria, a former Soviet satellite state, has been a NATO member since 2004.
A 2020 survey showed that NATO is generally seen in a positive light across the Alliance, but that positive opinions about NATO in Bulgaria have declined significantly over the past decade. In almost all of the countries studied, greater proportions favor close ties with the US than with Russia, but Bulgaria was one of two exceptions.
However, the US says it a. have enjoyed “Robust security relationship” with Bulgaria over 15 years. According to the State Department, the US has provided more than $ 160 million in security aid to Bulgaria over the past five years.