KABUL, May 5 (Reuters) - Bibles in Afghan languages sent to a U.S. soldier at a base in Afghanistan were confiscated and destroyed to ensure that troops did not breach regulations which forbid proselytising, a military spokeswoman said.
The U.S. military has denied its soldiers tried to convert Afghans to Christianity, after Qatar-based Al Jazeera television showed soldiers at a bible class on a base with a stack of bibles translated into the local Pashto and Dari languages.
U.S. Central Command's General Order Number 1 forbids troops on active duty -- including all those based in Iraq and Afghanistan -- from trying to convert people to another religion.
"I can now confirm that the Bibles shown on Al Jazeera's clip were, in fact, collected by the chaplains and later destroyed. They were never distributed," spokeswoman Major Jennifer Willis said at Bagram air base, north of Kabul.
Military officials have said the bibles were sent through private mail to an evangelical Christian soldier by his church back home. The soldier brought them to the bible study class where they were filmed.
Trying to convert Muslims to another faith is a crime in Afghanistan. An Afghan man who converted to Christianity was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2006 but was allowed to leave the country after an international uproar.
"It certainly is, from the United States military's perspective, not our position to ever push any specific kind of religion, period," chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told a Pentagon briefing on Monday. (Reporting by Peter Graff)
Destroying the Bibles could well fuel a backlash, but so far it is limited. Mission Network News quotes Carl Moeller of Open Doors, USA (which apparently supplied the Bibles) saying
the Bibles didn't need to be destroyed. "There's certainly many organizations that could put them to good use. Any time you see a Bible destroyed, it really should shake the core of every Christian to realize that this is the kind of desecration that can happen to God's Word."
American Family News Network quotes "a Pentagon adviser," Bob Maginnis:
"By and large, soldiers should have the right to share their faith wherever they are," he contends, "and for the political correctness crew to come aboard and declare that we're going to destroy Bibles because of the sensitivity of the local command, I find egregious."