Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin has made several speeches - some in uniform - at evangelical Christian churches in which he cast the United States' war on terrorism in religious terms. Boykin said of a 1993 battle with a Muslim militia leader in Somalia: "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
Asked about that comment, Boykin told CBS News he was not referring to the Muslim God, Allah, but to the Somali warlord's worship of money as an idol. He added that he does not believe the war against terror is a battle between Islam and Christianity.
CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports Boykin has shown church groups photos he took of Mogadishu with black slashes in the sky which he says did not come from any defect in the camera or film.
"Whether you understand it or not, it is a demonic spirit over the city of Mogadishu. Ladies and gentlemen, that's not a fake, that's not a farce," Boykin said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday he had not seen Boykin's comments, but he praised the three-star general, who is the Pentagon's Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.
"He is an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States armed forces," Rumsfeld said at a news conference.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had spoken in uniform at prayer breakfasts, adding he did not think Boykin broke any military rules by giving talks at churches.
"There is a very wide gray area on what the rules permit," Myers said. "At first blush, it doesn't look like any rules were broken."
A senator visiting the Pentagon Thursday was more critical.
Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, said he had not been aware of Boykin's statements as reported in the news media, then added, "If that's accurate, to me it's deplorable."
A Muslim civil rights group on Thursday called for Boykin to be reassigned.
"Putting a man with such extremist views in a critical policymaking position sends entirely the wrong message to a Muslim world that is already skeptical about America's motives and intentions," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Awad notes in his statement that a verse in the Quran says Muslims believe in the same God as do Jews and Christians.
Boykin's public statements have appeared to cast the war on terrorism as a religious battle between Christians and the forces of evil.
"It's not Osama bin Laden. It's not what you can see. It's the enemy in the spiritual realm," said Boykin, in one such speech.
Appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, Boykin said Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian... And the enemy is a guy named Satan."
Rumsfeld on Thursday repeated the Bush administration position that the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam but against people "who have tried to hijack a religion."
The defense secretary said he could not prevent military officials from making controversial statements.
"We're a free people. And that's the wonderful thing about our country," Rumsfeld said. "I think that for anyone to run around and think that that can be managed and controlled is probably wrong. Saddam Hussein could do it pretty well, because he'd go around killing people if they said things he didn't like."
Boykin tells CBS that since he is now a senior Pentagon official, he will not be speaking to any more church groups.