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MoD holds fire on Bible references in gun sights

The Ministry of Defence will not be ordering troops to remove coded references to the Bible from a range of specialist gun sights that are being used by British units in Afghanistan, The Independent has learned.

Last week it emerged that thousands of telescopic sights manufactured by the US company Trijicon have been embossed with biblical citations referring to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions.

The revelations caused consternation amongst US defence chiefs who feared that the sights would hand the Taliban and Al Qa’ida a propaganda coup, allowing them to portray the ongoing offensive in Afghanistan as a war against Islam led by proselytising Christian soldiers.

The sights, known as Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOGs), are favoured by special forces and front line units because they increase accuracy and the ability to pick out targets in low light.

After emergency talks with US officials last week, Trijicon, a Michigan based company founded by an evangelical Christian, agreed to remove the biblical references from any future sights and offered free modification kits to any armies that have purchased their hardware.

Defence officials in Australia and New Zealand have now ordered frontline troops to remove the references, whilst the Pentagon is currently drawing up plans to modify the 300,000 sights that are currently being used by the Marines and US special forces.

But Ministry of Defence officials have told The Independent that British troops serving in Afghanistan will not be asked to file off the biblical codes because doing so would have a “detrimental effect” on combat operations.

Special forces and some front line units use ACOGs to help give them an important tactical advantage over the enemy during fire fights. The lenses use tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that allows for accurate shooting in low light situations, and are mildly telescopic.

The sights are also used by some Muslim soldiers within the Iraqi and Afghan national armies, particularly anti-terror or special forces units.

Officials said today that any new gun sights purchased by the Ministry of Defence from Trijicon would no longer have biblical codes embedded on them. But defence chiefs fear that forcing soldiers to file off the references would risk taking thousands of rifles out of the combat arena at a vital time.

“Following discussions with the company, future purchases from Trijicon will not bear these inscriptions,” a MoD spokesperson said. “In-service sights will not, however, have the inscriptions removed as removing the sights from service would have a detrimental effect on our operational capability.”

Refusing to remove the references could, however, play into the hands of the Taliban and Islamist fighters who frequently accuse foreign forces in Afghanistan of being proxies for a Christian “crusade” against Islam.

General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, said last week that the gun sights risked creating a false perception of what troops are up to in Afghanistan.

“This is of serious concern to me and to the other commander in Iraq and Afghanistan because, indeed, it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do,” he said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim advocacy group in the States, warned that the gun sights were a "potential recruiting tool for anti-American forces."

But while US Central Command and the Ministry of Defence officially expressed surprise that references to the Bible had been placed on gun sights, the presence of subliminal religious messages on ACOGs had been a well known secret within the armed forces and among gun enthusiasts who often refer to Trijicon modified weapon as a “Jesus gun”.

The references only became public knowledge when they were highlighted by Mikey Weinstein, a former US air force officer who runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which said that gun sights broke US government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Two models with known biblical references include the lettering “JN8:12” and “2COR4:6” – references to John 8:12 and a section of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians which reads: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."