By Missy Ryan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top military officer ordered a review of training material after a course for officers was found to espouse the view that the United States is at war with Islam, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter on Tuesday to leaders of the Army and other services, along with regional commanders and officials heading the National Guard, ordering a review of relevant training and education material across the military.
"This review will ensure our professional education programs exhibit the cultural sensitivity, respect for religion and intellectual balance that we should expect in our academic institutions," Dempsey said in the letter, an excerpt from which were read to Reuters.
The review, which was first reported by Wired.com, was prompted by a complaint by a soldier who had recently completed an elective course entitled "Perspectives on Islam and Islamite Radicalism" at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.
One example of objectionable material, presented in a power point slide for students, was an assertion "that the United States is at war with Islam and we ought to ought to just recognize that we are war with Islam," Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.
"That's not at all what we believe to be the case. We're at war against terrorism, specifically al Qaeda, who has a warped view of the Islamic faith."
Kirby said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also felt "deep concern" over the discovery, which follows a string of incidents that, more than 10 years after the Afghan war began, have exposed a persisting gap between people in the conservative Muslim nation and the Western soldiers fighting Islamist militants there.
The incidents, embarrassing for the government of President Barack Obama as he seeks to mend U.S. ties with the Muslim world and shore up his campaign in Afghanistan, include bloody riots caused by U.S. soldiers' burning of copies of the Koran and photos showing U.S. soldiers posing with corpses of Afghans.
Dempsey also ordered an inquiry into how the material, which Kirby described as "objectionable" and "inflammatory," got into the course at Norfolk.
While hundreds of officers would have taken the course since it began in 2004, it's unclear how long the material identified as objectionable had been part of the curriculum. The 30-day inquiry should establish that.
The eight-week course, which was aimed at officers, has been suspended as the inquiry moves ahead.
The instructor has not been suspended from teaching duties, Kirby said. The soldier who made the complaint was not been identified.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)