By Peter Graff
KABUL, May 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. military denied on Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.
General Order Number 1 from the U.S. military’s Central Command forbids active duty troops — including all those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — from trying to convert people to their religion, considered a crime in many Muslim countries.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera television showed footage of a church service at Bagram, the main U.S. base north of the Afghan capital Kabul, in which soldiers had a stack of bibles in the local languages, Pashtu and Dari.
A military chaplain was shown delivering a sermon to other soldiers, saying: "The special forces guys — they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
But a U.S. military spokeswoman, Major Jennifer Willis, said the comments from the sermon were taken out of context and chaplains were told to make clear to soldiers that they could not proselytise while serving.
She said the bibles had been mailed to a soldier by a church back home in the United States and were never distributed.
"That specific case involved a soldier who brought in a donation of translated bibles that were sent to his personal address by his home church. He showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them," she said.
"The translated bibles were never distributed as far as we know, because the soldier understood that if he distributed them he would be in violaion of general order 1, and he would be subject to punishment."
She said she was aware of at least one case of a soldier who had been punished for giving out coins that had biblical inscriptions on them.
Trying to convert Muslims to any other 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.