Every few days, the headquarters of the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State militias issues a communique on how the war is going. Monday's report said 27 coalition air attacks on Sunday andMonday struck nine vehicles 12 troop units, 10 fighting positions (foxholes), 10 buildings, an oil refinery, a rocket launcher, three boats and a tank, among other targets. The attacks are framed as progress in the fight against extremism and terrorism, although it's difficult to make that link in the aftermath of the violence in France. What we do know, from 13 years of painful experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that one-sided accounts of combat strikes don't necessarily reflect a war that's being won.
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The world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts. At first glance, these upheavals appear to be driven by their own idiosyncratic circumstances. But look more closely and they share several key characteristics -- notably, a witch's brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that have been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.
Today respected clerics exist here and there, but many Muslims see the absence of a single authority as one source of the weakness and paucity of Islamic vision in the Muslim world today. In an era when the West has repeatedly invaded Muslim countries, overthrown their leaderships, and commandeered their economic and energy sources over much of the 20th century, the weakness and lack of leadership in the Muslim world remains a vivid concern to Muslims. Thus when the term "caliphate" is invoked, it touches a chord in the historical sensibilities of many.