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Robert Longley

Pentagon Denies Proselytizing in Afghanistan

By May 8, 2009

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The U.S. Department of Defense has flatly rejected claims by Arab news network Al Jazeera that U.S. service members in Afghanistan had been urged to “witness for Jesus” in an attempt to convert the Afghan people to Christianity.

On May 4, aired two videos two videos, one showing an evangelical religious service at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, and another Al Jazeera claimed documented a plan by the U.S. military to distribute Bibles translated into the two main languages of Afghanistan -- Dari and Pashtu.

In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him,” stated Al Jazeera in a news story.

Writing for the American Forces Press Service, Jim Garamone quoted a Pentagon official as stating that the Bagram religious service shown by Al Jazeera was intended for and attended only by U.S. service members. “American service members are allowed to hold religious services,” he said. “The clip shows one of those services with an American chaplain leading a religious service for American service members. In it, he spoke generically about the evangelical faith. That’s all there was to it.”

As for the translated Bibles, Garamone writes that they were indeed received by a young U.S. sergeant, but were confiscated by the sergeant’s chaplain, who was quoted as saying ““As far as we know, none [of the Bibles] ever got off base.” What was recorded but not shown by Al Jazeera, writes Garamone, was a conversation during which the chaplain advised the sergeant that distributing the Bibles was against U.S. Central Command’s General Order No. 1.

General Order No. 1 forbids “proselytizing of any faith, religion or practice.”

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