U.S. soldiers mistakenly stormed a vegetable oil equipment manufacturing plant in Bulgaria during a NATO training exercise last month.
US soldiers entered and cleared a building next to an airfield in southern Bulgaria that they said was part of the training area, the US military said in a statement on Tuesday.
But there were Bulgarian civilians “running a private business” in the building, he said, adding that no weapons were fired at any time during the interaction.
The incident occurred during a multinational NATO military exercise led by the US military on May 11, the statement said.
The soldiers had simulated the seizure and securing of the disused airfield in the town of Cheshnegirovo as part of the exercise, the statement said.
“We sincerely apologize to the company and its employees,” he added. “We are still learning from these exercises and are fully investigating the cause of this error.”
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The statement did not identify the company, but the Associated Press released surveillance video shared by KIM Engineering Ltd, which showed soldiers in camouflage uniforms wandering around a factory-like factory with guns.
KIM Engineering Ltd manufactures vegetable oil refining equipment, according to its website, and is based next to Cheshnegirovo Airfield.
Company owner Marin Dimitrov has now filed a complaint in connection with the incident, the Associated Press reported.
He called the raid an “illegal invasion of private property”, saying he was offended and humiliated.
“It is as if we are bandits, criminals, even if we carry out normal activities,” Dimitrov added.
“Seven armed soldiers enter, pointing their guns at the workers,” Dimitrov told the news agency. “The cameras show the worker raise his hands, they said in English to sit down, of course my people obey, they are very afraid.”
NBC News has reached out to Dimitrov for comment.
The incident also sparked outrage from Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.
Bulgarian TV channel NOVA, quoting Radev, said on Monday that it was “absolutely unacceptable that the lives and peace of Bulgarian citizens are endangered by military units, whether they are part of the Bulgarian or foreign armed forces” .
Exercises with allies on Bulgarian territory should help build security and confidence in collective defense, not create tensions, Radev added, according to NOVA. He also called for a full investigation and the disclosure of the names of those responsible for the incident.
NBC News has contacted Radev’s office and the Bulgarian Interior Ministry for further comment.
Bulgaria and the United States are NATO allies. The bloc referred NBC News to U.S. officials for comment, as the exercise was being led by the United States.
Former Soviet satellite state, Bulgaria has been a member of NATO since 2004.
A 2020 poll showed that NATO is generally viewed positively across the alliance, but positive views about NATO have declined significantly in Bulgaria over the past decade. In almost all of the countries studied, larger shares support strong ties with the United States than with Russia, but Bulgaria was one of two exceptions.
However, the United States claims to have enjoyed a “strong security relationship” with Bulgaria for 15 years. Over the past five years, the State Department has said the United States has provided over $ 160 million in security assistance to Bulgaria.