US Embassy Offers Sincere Apologies to Private Company, Staff for Incident near Cheshnegirovo Air Base

May 29 (BTA) - The US Embassy said in a statement  
received by BTA on Saturday that it learned on May 28 of an
incident that occurred during a military training exercise in  
Cheshnegirovo (South Central Bulgaria). "As part of Exercise  
Swift Response 21, between May 10-14, U.S. soldiers assigned to
 the 173rd Airborne Brigade conducted a training exercise to  
simulate seizing and securing the Cheshnegirovo decommissioned  
airfield in Bulgaria," the Embassy said.  
"During the course of this exercise, soldiers simulated entering
  and clearing multiple bunkers and structures across the
airfield. 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. No weapons were fired at any time during
this interaction.
"The U.S. Army takes training seriously and prioritizes the  
safety of our soldiers, our allies, and civilians. 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," the US Embassy in Sofia said.

Nova Television reported on Friday that on May 11, US troops  
burst into a factory making equipment for sunflower oil
refineries, located in Plovdiv Region. Security camera footage
showed seven uniformed servicepersons carrying assault rifles.
The factory is in the immediate proximity of the Air Base where
a large-scale exercise was taking place.

Reacting on Saturday to media reports on the incident at
Cheshnegirovo Air Base, the Defence Ministry said it had not  
received any formal alerts and complaints.

Later in the day, Defence Minister Georgi Panayotov said at a
briefing that what happened during the military exercise was an
incident and an obvious misunderstanding.

The Defence Ministry apologized both to the Bulgarian citizens
who were on the premises during the incident and to the
company's owner. The Ministry pledged to compensate the company
for any damage caused. The US Army also offers apologies to the
Bulgarian citizens and the owner of the business, and promises
to prevent such incidents in the future, said Panayotov.
He added that, as seen in the footage, the servicemen did not
use any violence or brute force. Still, the incident is more
than unpleasant because it points to some omissions, said the
Defence Minister. He has ordered a probe, which is expected to
be completed in a matter of days, and the media will be informed
 about the findings.

The incident was not made public earlier because it had not been
 reported, said Panayotov. Obviously, there are people in
positions of responsibility and servicepersons who must be held
to account. Answering a question, he said the incident had not
been reported to the Military Police and the Defence Ministry's
leadership. Asked if the incident had been covered up since May
11, he said: "I myself heard of it when you did." He said this
was a case of not reporting information, not a cover-up.   

Anton Kutev, the caretaker cabinet's spokesperson, told national
  television on Saturday the factory owner had referred the   
incident to the District and Military Prosecution Offices. "The
incident will be investigated with the utmost urgency. US troops
  worldwide are subject to probes, at least by the US Army,
whose qualities hardly anyone doubts," he said.

The US Embassy in Sofia said in a statement received by BTA late
 on Friday that it had learned of the incident at Cheshnegirovo
on the same day. The Embassy said it was looking into the
alleged involvement of US troops and would fully cooperate with
any investigation. RY/DD


Source: Sofia