U.S. troops taking part in a training mission in Cheshnegirovo, Bulgaria on May 11 accidentally ventured outside the mission area and into a civilian cooking oil refinery.
Newly released video footage from the factory showed soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, armed with training rifles, entering the factory before realizing their mistake.
On Tuesday, U.S. Army Europe and Africa confirmed the accidental raid by the Army unit. The incident took place on May 11 as soldiers participated in a training exercise to simulate the seizing and securing of the decommissioned Cheshnegirovo airfield in Bulgaria.
“During the course of this exercise, soldiers simulated entering and clearing multiple bunkers and structures across the airfield,” the Army statement read. “On May 11, soldiers entered and cleared a building next to the airfield that they believed was part of the training area, but that was occupied by Bulgarian civilians operating a private business. No weapons were fired at any time during this interaction.”
NBC News reported Marin Dimitrov, the owner of the KIM Engineering factory says he filed a lawsuit and said the experience made him and his staff feel “as if we are bandits, criminals.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable in any way,” Dimitrov said. “I cannot find the words to express myself.”
The Army said, it “takes training seriously and prioritizes the safety of our soldiers, our allies, and civilians,” adding, “We sincerely apologize to the business and its employees. We always learn from these exercises and are fully investigating the cause of this mistake. We will implement rigorous procedures to clearly define our training areas and prevent this type of incident in the future.”
The airfield training exercise saw the 173rd Airborne Brigade work with the U.S. Air Force’s 435th Contingency Response Group and other NATO allies. During the training, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was tasked with securing the airfield to enable C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to land and rapidly offload equipment at the airfield, meant to simulate a “seamless transition between securing the airfield and accepting follow-on forces via air-land aircraft.”
The training incident was part of the larger NATO Exercise Swift Response 21, which took place in Romania, Estonia and Bulgaria and saw more than 7,000 paratroopers from ten different nations participating.
Swift Response itself is part of the larger NATO Defender Europe 21 training exercise.
“DEFENDER-Europe 21 is a large-scale U.S. Army-led exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between the U.S., NATO allies and partner militaries,” the Army said. “This year, more than 28,000 multinational forces from 26 nations will conduct near-simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in more than a dozen countries from the Baltics to the strategically important Balkans and Black Sea Region.”