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U.S. military says video does not show attempt to convert Afghans

  • Story Highlights
  • Video on the Qatar news service shows chaplain discussing religious conversion
  • U.S. military order bans members from trying to convert people to their religion
  • Military officials say chaplain's sermon was within regulations
  • Chaplain didn't ask followers to preach to or try to convert Afghans, military says
From Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military is denying that troops in Afghanistan have been attempting to convert Afghans to Christianity, countering video showing a chaplain delivering a sermon about religious conversion and Bibles printed in local languages.

The video was shown recently on the Qatar-based international television news service, Al Jazeera English.

The report contended U.S. troops were breaking a military order banning service members from trying to convert people to their religion while based in the Middle East or Southwest Asia, a predominately conservative Muslim region.

Pentagon officials said the story is not an accurate portrayal of what was going on during a group prayer service and later in a larger church service at the U.S. military air base at Bagram, Afghanistan.

"A soldier received unsolicited Bibles in Pashto and Dari that were donated by a church in the U.S.," Col. Gregory Julian, spokesman for U.S. Forces, Afghanistan, told CNN. "The soldier was unaware that he was not allowed to distribute them, but the chaplain leading the Bible study later corrected the service member, although this does not appear on the footage we've seen.

"The Bibles were never distributed. They were removed by the chaplains."

Another video segment showed a sermon by the chief U.S. chaplain at the air base telling the evangelical churchgoers it is their duty to go out and convert people to Christianity.

"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," Lt. Col. Gary Hensley says on the video. "Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do; that's our business."

U.S. military officials said the chaplain was doing nothing wrong and was within the regulations. The officials note that the video does not show Hensley telling his followers in the church service to preach to or try to convert Afghans.

"This was irresponsible and dangerous journalism sensationalizing year-old footage of a religious service for U.S. soldiers on a U.S. base and inferring that troops are evangelizing to Afghans," Julian said.

Al Jazeera defended its reporting.

"In advance of airing this segment, Al Jazeera English journalists made calls to the U.S. military yesterday to get a comment," Molly Conroy, a spokesperson for Al Jazeera English, said Monday.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to get a comment and the segment was aired this morning," she said. "As with all of our reporting, AJE made every attempt to show all sides of the story, and this piece was no exception."

The U.S. military air base is home to thousands of troops from all branches of the U.S. military. The vast majority of the troops do not leave the base and are in various support roles for U.S. troops around the country.

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