The Navy will not use a target depicting a Muslim woman holding a gun at a new training range for SEALs in Virginia Beach.
The announcement came hours after the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the Pentagon to remove the target. A picture of the cardboard target, which shows a woman in a headscarf holding a pistol, was published in The Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday. The image shows verses of the Quran hanging on the wall behind the woman, which also generated criticism from the group.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based council, said in the letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dated Friday that the target "is offensive and sends a negative and counterproductive message to trainees and to the Muslim-majority nations to which they may be deployed."
Panetta's press office did not respond to a request for comment. Late Friday, Lt. David Lloyd, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Group 2, said the materials in question would not be used on the close quarters combat training range, which was dedicated Monday at Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story.
"We have removed this particular target and Arabic writing in question from the range in the near term, and will explore other options for future training," Lloyd said.
Naval Special Warfare Group Two, which oversees SEAL teams 2, 4, 8 and 10 at Joint Expeditionary Base LIttle Creek, has not yet put the $11.5 million facility to use.
The 26,500-square-foot building contains 52 interconnected spaces, including mock-ups of markets, a hospital, schools, a bank, a bus depot and two mosques. It will allow small groups of SEALs to practice enemy engagement at close range.
Many of the details were taken from actual raids over the past decade, Capt. Tim Szymanski, the commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group 2, said during a tour of the facility Monday.
Szymanski said SEALs must differentiate in a split second between civilian bystanders and potential enemies, and noted other cardboard cut-outs on the range would show people holding animals, not weapons.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Islamic group, said it's important that military units not be trained to see Muslims as enemies, even if they are fighting in Afghanistan or other Muslim-majority nations.
"There are all kinds of people all over the world trying to do us harm. Why would you use this particular image in training people how to kill?" Hooper asked. "It creates the impression, we believe, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that you should view Muslim women in headscarves with hostility and suspicion."
The council also spoke out in recent months against an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk who taught a course on Islamic radicalism that referred to the war on terror as a war against Islam.
The course was halted after a military officer who was a student complained. The instructor, an Army officer, was relieved of his teaching duties. A broader review of training across the military related to Islam found no other problems.
Kate Wiltrout, 757-446-2629, email@example.com