WASHINGTON: A US firm sought to quiet a controversy over coded Biblical references inscribed on gunsights used by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, announcing it was providing kits to remove them.
Muslim and religious freedom groups reacted angrily after it emerged this week that Trijicon has multi-million-dollar contracts to supply hundreds of thousands of the gunsights to the US military.
Critics charged that the company was putting US troops in danger in Muslim-majority nations where US military presence is already bitterly resented.
General David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, which oversees US military operations from the Gulf region to Central Asia, called the inscriptions “disturbing,” adding that he only learned about them on Wednesday.
“This is a serious concern to me and the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because it indeed conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what we have sought to do,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Australia Friday ordered its military to look at removing biblical references from weapons used by troops in Afghanistan, after New Zealand banned the “completely inappropriate” inscriptions. Related article: Aus, NZ order review of scopes
Australia’s Defence Minister John Faulkner said the military had been unaware of the meaning of the letters and numbers etched into the US-made gunsights, which refer to passages in the New Testament.
“I have asked Defence to examine the options available to deal with this matter without compromising the safety of our troops and critically important capabilities,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner’s comments came as neighbouring New Zealand condemned the inscriptions as potentially inflammatory.
The Wixom, Michigan company said it has inscribed references to the New Testament on the metal casings of its gunsights for over two decades.
But it announced it would supply the military with 100 kits to remove the references on already deployed products.
Major Shawn Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Department of Defense “applauds” Trijicon’s voluntary action.
“We will work to determine how best to quickly and prudently implement the remedies they have proposed,” he added.
The coded descriptions are not obvious, appearing in raised lettering immediately following the stock number on the metal casing of the gunsights. The scopes use tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters aim at their target.
Among the markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight were JN8:12, an apparent reference to John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
The practice raised alarm because it broke a US military rule that strictly prohibits “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice” in Iraq and Afghanistan, both Muslim nations.
“It is not the policy of the Department of Defense to put religious references of any kind on its equipment,” Army spokesman Gary Tallman told AFP.
The Marine Corps said it was making “every effort” to remove the markings and would ensure all future scopes not carry the inscriptions.
Trijicon currently has a multi-year, 660-million-dollar contract with the US Marine Corps and other contracts with the US Army to supply the rifle sights.
Just under 300,000 of them are currently fielded, 220,000 by the marines and around 100,000 by the army, Pentagon officials said.
The military contractor said it had taken the step “in response to concerns raised by the Department of Defense” and to “ensure the war-time production needs of the troops are met as quickly as possible.”
Besides providing kits, the company said it would remove the biblical references on all US military products that have not yet been shipped and stop inscribing them on gunsights in the future.
It also offered other international military forces using its products — which include the British military and the New Zealand defense forces — the option to remove the references.
“Trijicon has proudly served the US military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate,” president and CEO Stephen Bindon said in a statement.
The firm vows on its website to follow “biblical standards” it says make America great.