173rd Airborne Mistakenly Raids Sunflower Oil Factory During Exercise In Bulgaria

The US Army is now investigating an incident where soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade mistakenly raided an sunflower oil factory during Exercise Swift Response 21 in Bulgaria.

According to a US Army Europe and Africa spokesperson, the incident occured on May 11, during a training exercise that simulated seizing and securing the Cheshnegirovo Air Base in Plovdiv. As part of the exercise, soldiers simulated clearing and securing bunkers and structures on the decommissioned airfield. Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade entered and cleared a building next to the airfield that they believed was part of the training area, however, it turned out to be occupied by “Bulgarian civilians running a private business”.

Part of a television segment showing security camera footage of the incident, as well as part of the factory.

In an emailed statement to Overt Defense, US Army Europe and Africa issued a “sincere apology” to the business and its employees for the incident, saying that they were “fully investigating” the circumstances that resulted in the mistake. Stressing that no weapons were discharged during the incident, the spokesperson reiterated that the “U.S. Army takes training seriously and prioritizes the safety of our soldiers, our allies, and civilians”, and that the Army would implement rigorous procedures to clearly define training areas and prevent a repeat of the event.

While the incident occurred on May 11, it was not officially reported to the Bulgarian government until 28 May, and the US Embassy in Sofia was similarly notified on that day. In response to inquiries by local media on Saturday, Bulgarian Defence Minister Georgi Panayotov denied that a cover-up had occurred, saying that there were “people in positions of responsibility and servicepersons who must be held to account” for their failure to report the incident.

The Bulgarian Defense Ministry similarly apologized to the owner of the factory and the factory’s staff and offered compensation for any damage caused, adding that the Ministry would be conducting its own investigation into the incident, with investigation results to be released to the media.