While the deal hasn’t been finalized and only tentative parameters are currently known, reports emerged Monday that the United States and Turkey are on the path to a deal that, as Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly describe, “is expected to significantly increase the scope and pace of the U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State in northern Syria.” The goal is to clear out a roughly 68-mile-long area on Syria’s northern border, just west of the Euphrates River and extending into the province of Aleppo. Once established, it would be controlled by Syrian opposition forces, though the two nations have yet to agree on which of the groups is best suited for the job.
The ultimate goal is for the land to become a safe zone for Syrian refugees, though the U.S. has not gone so far as to promise that level of protection. There have been in excess of 2 million people that have sought refuge from Syria’s civil war and ISIS attacks in Turkey. The new region would allow many of them to return to their homeland and, as a result, would greatly reduce the burden Turkey has faced due to the flood of refugees that have crossed its borders.
For the United States, the primary appeal is in gaining a tactical advantage in its fight against ISIS. As part of the agreement, Turkey has allowed the U.S. to use its base at Incirlik to fly missions into Northern Syria. Previously, American forces had to launch from Bahrain which required them to traverse the whole of Iraq before entering Syria. From Incirlik, they will be better equipped to respond to new threats and carry out their attacks with far greater efficiency. The goal is to use air strikes in conjunction with on-the-ground fighting.
The combination worked quite well in taking back the border crossing of Tal Abyad this past June. The hope is that the coalition will experience similar success in its efforts to capture ISIS’s final two crossings at Jarablus and al-Rai. Without access to those areas, it will be far more difficult for the terrorist group to smuggle foreign fighters into the area. It was also greatly hinder ISIS’s ability to maintain a presence in the region, thus clearing the way for the creation of a new home for the millions of refugees in Turkey.
Having the tactical advantage in war often goes a long way towards determining the victor. The importance of knowing the most efficient way of accomplishing your goal and then having the means to execute that plan cannot be overstated. Similarly, it is vital that we have a plan for most effectively playing our part in the spiritual war going on around us.
I write that knowing full well that language like spiritual warfare, demons, Satan…is often glossed over or looked at with suspicion in our culture today. However, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). That’s why he goes on to encourage them to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:13).
Sometimes it can sound overdramatic to say that we are part of the battle that rages on between the forces of God and those of Satan. Moreover, it can seem pointless to fight knowing that the war has already been won by Christ. Yet, while that is true and God’s ultimate victory has already been assured, this is still a war that generates casualties. Every lost person is a potential casualty and the hearts of those in need of God’s truth are the battlefield upon which we fight. And if that sounds overdramatic, perhaps we have failed to grasp the magnitude of the drama that is playing out all around us.
While the war has been won, the stakes for each battle that will be fought between now and when Christ returns are very real and very high. To that end, I’d encourage you to take a moment and prayerfully read Ephesians 6:10-20. In those verses we find God’s instructions on how we can gain the tactical advantage over our spiritual adversary.
Our fight is real and the next casualty could be someone you love. God has given us his plan and equipped us through the power of the Holy Spirit to carry it out as efficiently and effectively as possible. But he won’t fight the battle for us. He has given each of us a vital role to play. So what are you waiting for?