The Bulgarian Ministry of Defense said Friday it is confident that thousands of United States forces will be deployed as early as this year in Bulgaria and neighboring Romania to give logistic support for American-led missions in Iraq and around the world. A defense official revealed the plans to VOA after the Bulgarian government approved Thursday NATO efforts to modernize two of its military airports.
A senior Bulgarian defense official, Lieutenant Colonel Sevastian Dobrev, tells VOA that the nearly $80 million deal with NATO to upgrade two of Bulgaria's military airports will precede the arrival of American troops in the small Balkan nation and neighboring Romania.
Mr. Dobrev reveals that many troops are expected to arrive in the region within the coming months. "I expect towards the end of this year we will have in Bulgaria and Romania, in this broad new NATO member countries, the United States will deploy one brigade," he said. "Four thousand troops. Four thousand!"
Bulgaria and Romania joined the NATO alliance last March. Analysts say stationing U.S. forces in these countries shows Washington shifts from large Cold War deployments in Central Europe and Asia, to sites closer to potential conflicts in the Middle East.
Defense official Dobrev explains the cabinet agreed this week to a complete upgrade at its air base in Bezmer which he says will be used exclusively by U.S. forces. He adds American troops will also share another airport, Graf Ignatievo, with NATO units, after work is finished on the expansion of an airfield there.
Because of Bulgaria's strategic location, Mr. Dobrev says, U.S. forces will form a logistic center at the two airports to support military missions in hotspots such as Iraq. "Bulgaria is at the south gate of NATO. All these airports will be used for transportation jets, for the transportation of all this logistic equipment, to the different parts of the world, or something like that," he said.
While there has been opposition in Bulgaria to the American effort in Iraq, Mr. Dobrev claims most Bulgarians support the deployment of American forces in their country.
He says many people believe the American presence will boost economic growth and help to reduce poverty in the former Communist country. "Most of the people, more than 67-percent, expect we will have good profits [from the arrival] of American troops in Bulgaria, because we have too many jobless people. For this region it will be very useful because we expect that many people will be engaged [in] supporting this airbase," he said.
Both Bulgaria and Romania are keen to promote their military sites and capabilities to the United States and NATO at a time when they hope to attract more foreign investments to close the huge wealth gap with the European Union.