WASHINGTON — Gen. David Petraeus delivered a stinging criticism of the contractor that imprinted tiny Bible verse numbers on rifle sights used by American and NATO armed forces currently at war in Muslim countries.

“It is disturbing,” the U.S. Central Command leader said in Washington on Thursday. “This is a serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because it indeed conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what we have sought to do.”

Shortly after he spoke, ABC News reported that the contractor, Michigan-based Trijicon, had issued a statement vowing to stop distributing military products with the religious references. It also offered to provide “100 modification kits to forces in the field to remove the reference on the already forward deployed optical sights.”

The Bible verse citations vary on each Trijicon Reflex sight. One marked 2COR4:6 refers to a passage reading: 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.

Trijicon told the Associated Press the sights have had verses on them for 30 years, since the company’s late founder began the practice.

Earlier in the week, a CENTCOM spokesman seemed to dismiss the situation, comparing it to the use of the phrase “In God We Trust” printed on American money. Petraeus, who said he learned of the controversy late Wednesday, left no wiggle room: he was not pleased.

The U.S. has long battled against public perceptions that portray its mission in Arab regions as a religious-based crusade. Already this week, foreign media have blasted the weapons in Afghanistan as “Bible guns.”

“There’s a reason that we put people through cultural awareness training,” Petraeus said, referring to pre-deployment training programs. “I can assure you that there is much greater sensitivity among our troops about this sort of thing than apparently there is from the contractor.”

The original report about the sights prompted angry responses from Muslim-American groups, some of which called for the Pentagon to pull from combat immediately any weapons that have sights inscribed with the verses.

Critics, and the Pentagon, are debating what contractor laws, if any, the manufacturer may have violated. Petraeus, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, indicated Trijicon may face a serious rebuke.

“This is a big concern to the Army and the Marine Corps,” he said. “They are in some pretty considerable discussions right now about how to deal with that.”

On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that the New Zealand military was removing the tiny inscriptions from 260 existing gun sights in its arsenal and demanding Trijicon cease the practice on existing orders.

“We deem them to be inappropriate,” said New Zealand defense force spokesman Maj. Kristian Dunne.

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