By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 4, 2009 - A report broadcast by the Arab news network Al Jazzera about U.S. servicemembers proselytizing in Afghanistan is just plain wrong, Pentagon officials said today. The Al Jazeera story showed an evangelical religious service on Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and a discussion about distributing Bibles that had been translated into Dari and Pashtu – the two major languages of Afghanistan.
"American servicemembers are allowed to hold religious services," a Defense Department official speaking on background said. "The clip shows one of those services with an American chaplain leading a religious service for American servicemembers. In it, he spoke generically about the evangelical faith. That's all there was to it."
The chaplain did not urge servicemembers to go among the Afghan people and attempt to gain converts to Christianity, the official said.
In the second instance, a young sergeant received a shipment of Bibles translated into Dari and Pashtu from his church in the United States. The film showed a discussion about the Bibles. "What it did not show was the chaplain counseling the young sergeant that distributing the Bibles was against U.S. Central Command's General Order No. 1," the official said. The chaplain confiscated the Bibles. "As far as we know, none ever got off base."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was asked about the incident – which happened in May 2008 – during a Pentagon news conference today. "It certainly is – from the United States military's perspective – not our position to ever push any specific kind of religion, period," Mullen said.
There is no indication disciplinary action was taken against the young servicemember. "The counseling sufficed," the official said.
General Order No. 1 specifically forbids "proselytizing of any faith, religion or practice."