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Muslim commander says U.S. troops there to help

General NewsWed May 23, 2007 1:54pm EDT
By Mohammed Abbas

ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS, May 23 (Reuters) - When he left Pakistan to learn to fly in the United States, Muhammad Khan never expected that one day he would be taking in part in U.S. Navy exercises off the coast of Iran.

Now a squadron commander aboard the USS Stennis aircraft carrier, Khan sees no conflict between being a devout Muslim and serving in the U.S. Navy. His missions typically involve reconnaissance and in-flight refuelling.
As the first Muslim to command an operational aviation squadron in the U.S. Navy, 45-year-old Khan rejects jihadists claims that they are doing their religious duty when they attack U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defending U.S. military involvement in Muslim countries, he said he hoped insurgents would realise that the intentions of the average U.S. serviceman or woman were good, regardless of the politics that brought them to the region.

"Most of the soldiers are there to help, and the goal is for stability and security in the region so the Iraqis and Afghans can conduct business on their own," he said aboard the warship preparing for naval exercises in the Gulf.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney earlier this month sent a message of warning to Iran from the deck of the Stennis over its atomic programme. The manoeuvres raise pressure on the Islamic Republic, which insists its programme is for peaceful purposes.

Khan said his religion had never come into conflict with his duties aboard the aircraft carrier.

The only time his religion emerged as an issue was when colleagues called to make sure he was not being harassed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

"I always tell them that I'm a Muslim, because I want them to see and speak to a Muslim," Khan told Reuters. "Most of the time, when we hear about a Muslim, you're looking at some gruesome pictures of something negative that's happened."

"I've tried to teach them what Islam is all about ... teachings of non-violence, compassion, mercy, some of the things that you don't necessarily read about in the paper," he added.

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