U.S. soldiers mistakenly stormed a factory that makes vegetable oil equipment in Bulgaria during a NATO training exercise last month in an incident that has led to criticism from America's Eastern European ally and a lawsuit from the factory's owner.
But there were Bulgarian civilians “operating a private business” in the building, it said, adding that no weapons were fired at any time during the interaction.
The incident happened during a U.S. Army-led multinational NATO military exercise on May 11, according to the statement.
The soldiers had simulated seizing and securing the decommissioned airfield in the town of Cheshnegirovo as part of the exercise, the statement said.
“We sincerely apologize to the business and its employees,” it added. “We always learn from these exercises and are fully investigating the cause of this mistake.”
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The statement did not identify the company, but the Associated Press released surveillance video shared by KIM Engineering Ltd, which showed soldiers in camouflage uniforms roaming through a factory-like facility with guns drawn.
Bulgaria and the United States are NATO allies. The bloc referred NBC News to American authorities for comment as the exercise was U.S.-led.
A former Soviet-satellite state, Bulgaria has been a NATO member since 2004.
A 2020 poll showed that NATO is generally seen in a positive light across the alliance, but positive opinions of NATO are down significantly in Bulgaria over the past decade. In nearly every country surveyed, larger shares support close ties with the U.S. than with Russia, but Bulgaria was one of two exceptions.
However, the U.S. says it has enjoyed a “robust security relationship” with Bulgaria over 15 years. Over the last five years, the State Department said the U.S. has provided more than $160 million in security assistance to Bulgaria.