Soldiers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade mistakenly seized and secured a working olive oil factory in Bulgaria as part of a large-scale NATO exercise aimed at deterring Russian military aggression in eastern Europe.
“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,” according to a U.S. Army Europe and Africa statement released today. “No weapons were fired at any time during this interaction.”
Officials said that during the exercise, soldiers simulated entering and clearing multiple bunkers and structures across the decommissioned Cheshnegirovo airfield in Bulgaria.
The statement said the Army would “implement rigorous procedures to clearly define our training areas and prevent this type of incident in the future.”
“We sincerely apologize to the business and its employees,” officials wrote. “We always learn from these exercises and are fully investigating the cause of this mistake.”
Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva posted security camera video of the daytime raid on her Twitter account. She reported that the owner of the factory had filed a lawsuit after the event.
The paratroopers were conducting assault maneuvers following large-scale airborne drops conducted through Exercise Swift Response which took place in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania.
Swift Response is part of the larger, umbrella exercise Defender Europe 21, an annual exercise that partners U.S. forces with NATO allies in multiple events across the continent.
The initial portions started in early May and will conclude later this month with Exercise African Lion in Morrocco.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.