NAPLES, Italy — The United States is among 20 nations participating in exercise Cooperative Key 2003, which this year will require units to rescue fictitious refugees in Bulgaria.

About 150 U.S. troops from the States, Germany and Iceland are among 1,000 military personnel in, or heading to, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The exercise starts Monday and runs through Sept. 13.

“NATO has been asked by the U.N. to come in support of a peace-support operation to allow international organizations ... to launch rescue-and-recovery operations for people who simulate refugees,” said Canadian Maj. Tim Dunne, NATO public information officer for the exercise.

Helicopters and transport aircraft will drop troops and extract casualties, as fighter aircraft patrol overhead. Casualties will be treated at a field hospital by 91 medical personnel that will include 40 Americans. Troops also will quell any problems between the refugees and insurgents.

Participating nations are Canada, France, Greece, Hungary, The Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Sweden and Switzerland. Several international nongovernmental organizations also play a role in the exercise.

Cooperative Key is scheduled by Adm. Gregory G. Johnson, commander, Allied Forces Southern Europe, and will be conducted by Lt. Gen. Glen W. Moorhead III, commander, Allied Air Forces South, both in Naples. About 60 personnel assigned to the NATO base will be in Plovdiv for the seventh annual exercise.

Plovdiv, a city built around an ancient Roman theater, also hosted the exercise in 2001. Dunne said that unbeknownst to exercise participants, on Sept. 12, 2001, the city stopped for two minutes of silence in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States.

“Some military wives just happened to see the local people stand at noon and pray,” he said. “That’s such a wonderful comment on the community.”

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