US Army soldiers mistakenly raid Bulgarian olive oil factory during NATO exercise

A team of U.S. Army soldiers mistakenly raided a factory in Bulgaria that manufactures equipment used in olive oil production during a NATO training exercise in the region, Fox News has confirmed. 

Ken McGraw, the public affairs office for U.S. Special Operations Command, told Fox News on Tuesday that an initial report about the raid was incorrect. 

“The unit that raided the factory was the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is stationed in Vicenza, Italy,” he said. “U.S. Special Operations Forces were not involved in this incident in any way.” 

U.S. soldiers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade were conducting a simulation at the Cheshnegirovo airfield in South Central Bulgaria, McGraw said. They were moving from building to building to seize and secure each stop, and the team mistakenly believed the factory was located within the airfield, not adjacent to it.

Defense Brief first reported the incident, citing the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 

During the course of the exercise on May 11, soldiers simulated entering and clearing multiple bunkers and structures across the airfield, U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command said in a statement. 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, the Army said. 

“The U.S. Army takes training seriously and prioritizes the safety of our soldiers, our allies, and civilians,” the statement said. “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.” 

Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, an investigative journalist for Arms Watch, according to her Twitter account, tweeted out security camera footage purportedly showing the incident. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had more than 1.2 million views. A group of seven soldiers is seen with their guns drawn walking onto the property and into what seems to be a warehouse with at least one worker inside.

COLORADO ARMY VETS HONOR CIVIL WAR, WWII DEAD AND A BUFFALO SOLDIER 

Gaytandzhieva claimed that the owner of the factory has since filed a lawsuit.

The incident occurred during an exercise a part of Swift Response 21, an operation taking place in Romania, Estonia and Bulgaria involving more than 7,000 paratroopers from 10 different nations as a part of the broader Defender Europe 21 series. 

Defender Europe 21 is an annual large-scale U.S. Army-led, multinational joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO and partner militaries, according to its website. 

This year’s exercise is the largest NATO drill taking place on European soil in decades, Defense Brief reported. It integrates approximately 28,000 multinational forces from 26 nations to conduct nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in 12 countries. 

According to the U.S. Army website, the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Sky Soldiers) is a contingency response force in Europe, providing rapid forces to the U.S. European, Africa and Central Command areas of responsibilities. Forward-based in Italy and Germany, the brigade routinely trains alongside NATO allies and partners to build interoperability and strengthen the Alliance.

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The U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, did not return Fox News’ request for comment about the incident.