The Pentagon is moving to address concerns raised about hundreds of thousands of gunsights it has purchased, which officials found out this week have biblical references engraved on them.
A Pentagon spokesman says the department is working with the manufacturer of the gunsights, Trijicon Incorporated, to figure out how to remove the bible verse references. The company offered Thursday to stop putting the citations on its products for the U.S. military and to provide the Pentagon with kits that troops can use to remove the references from gunsights already fielded, some to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The spokesman would not say whether that is an acceptable solution, but called the unauthorized insertion of the biblical references disturbing and inappropriate.
American Muslim groups have called for the gunsights to immediately be removed from the force, but that may not be practical. The Pentagon says most of the 300,000 gunsights it ordered from Trijicon have already been delivered, and tens of thousands are in use in the war zones. Some of the gunsights have been issued to Afghan and Iraqi forces.
Trijicon says it has been putting biblical citations on its products for 20 years reflecting its founder's beliefs in Christianity and service to country. The company's current contract with the Pentagon is valued at $660 million, and also involves other items.
A photograph of one gunsight engraving published by London's Guardian newspaper is, JN8:12, which stands for the Book of John, chapter eight, verse 12. The verse quotes Jesus as saying he provides the light of life to his followers. Britain has also purchased several hundred of the gunsights.
U.S. officials say no one in the military leadership noticed the references, which are on plates that also contain serial numbers and other information.
Among the senior officers expressing anger at the insertion of the biblical references is General David Petraeus, who commands all U.S. troops in the Middle East and Central Asia.
"This is a big concern to the Army and the Marine Corps, who have contracted for these particular sights," said General Petraeus. "That was obviously not part of the specification in the contract. And they are in some pretty considerable discussions right now about how to deal with that. This is of serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because indeed it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do."
General Petraeus says U.S. troops who go to Iraq and Afghanistan receive cultural training designed to make them sensitive to Islamic religion and culture, and he says the troops seem to know more about that than the manufacturers of these gunsights.
Religious engravings would not be allowed on any U.S. government equipment, and putting them on weapons used in Islamic countries is of particular concern. U.S. officials have long tried to allay fears among some Muslims that its military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are religion-based. The United States says its fight is with violent extremists, not ordinary Muslims, and indeed it has sought to build cooperation with moderate Islamic countries against the militants.