On May 29th, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense and Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into an incident in the village of Cheshnegirovo in the region of Plovdiv.
The incident involved US military who, mistakenly, stormed vegetable oil production workshop during a NATO military exercise.
The incident happened on May 11, but the US embassy said it only learned about the incident on May 28th. The diplomatic mission apologized for the incident and promised to co-operate in the investigation.
“The US Army takes training seriously and prioritizes the safety of our soldiers, our allies, and civilians. We sincerely apologize to the business and its employees,” the embassy said.
The owner of the workshop, Marin Dimitrov, told Bulgaria’s state radio that his seven workers continue to feel stressed by the invasion of the soldiers and that he intends to seek his rights in court.
Footage from the factory’s security cameras showed seven US soldiers armed with assault rifles and moving in fire teams to secure the facility, with no resistance from the workers. After finding no ‘enemy’ combatants, the Americans left.
The incursion was made by soldiers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, who strayed outside the designated area of the exercise at the Cheshnegirovo Air Base, where they trained in “entering and clearing multiple bunkers and structures across the airfield.”
The exercise is titled “Swift Response 21”. It was a US Army-led multinational exercise involving more than 7,000 paratroopers from 10 NATO allies. Surprisingly, it wasn’t supposed to involve raiding civilian businesses, but surprises happen, just like in war.
Caretaker Minister of Defence, Georgi Panayotov, gave a briefing at which he stated that no violence had been used by the military in Cheshnegirovo – they had ordered the workers in the workshop only to sit down.
Cheshnegirovo air base is located near Bulgaria’s village of Cheshnegirovo.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev demanded an investigation into the incident.
“The exercises with our allies on the territory of Bulgaria should contribute to building security and trust in collective defense, not breed tension”, he said
“It is inadmissible to have the lives of Bulgarian citizens disturbed and put at risk by military formations, whether Bulgarian or belonging to a foreign army,” said President Rumen Radev, talking to Minister of Defense Georgi Panayotov and Lieutenant General Lyubcho Todorov, Commander of the Joint Forces Command.
Commenting on the raid by American soldiers of a production workshop near Cheshnegirovo during a military exercise, President Radev stated he expects a thorough investigation into the incident, disclosure of the names of the officials responsible and a review of the organization and safety measures.
“The exercises with our allies on the territory of Bulgaria should contribute to building security and trust in collective defence, not breed tension,” the President said.
The Bulgarian military is currently investigating why information about the US incursion remained hidden from the public for almost two weeks.
Georgi Panayotov, Bulgaria’s envoy to the UN and currently also the country’s acting defense minister, said during a media conference that there was no attempt to cover-up the incident.
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