Paris, Sept 27: Six French jet fighters targeted and destroyed an Islamic State (ISIS) training camp in eastern Syria, President Francois Hollande said today, making good on a promise to go after the group that the president has said is planning attacks against several countries, including France.
The airstrikes were the first in Syria by France as it expands its mission against IS. "The camp was totally destroyed," Hollande said today after arriving at the United Nations, before the start of a major development summit and the UN General Assembly bringing together world leaders.
"We're sure there were no casualties" among civilians, he added. The French president's office announced the strikes, without details, in a statement hours earlier.
"Our nation will strike each time our national security is at stake," the statement said. Hollande told reporters the strikes on the training camp, and others to come, were aimed at "protecting our territory, cutting short terrorist actions, acting in legitimate defense."
Hollande said more strikes "could take place in the coming weeks if necessary." The targets were identified in earlier French reconnaissance flights and with information provided by the US-led coalition. The president announced earlier this month a change in French strategy expanding its airstrikes over Iraq into Syria.
France has carried out 215 airstrikes against IS extremists in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition since last year, the Defense Ministry said earlier this month. But it previously held back on engaging in Syria, citing concern over playing into Assad's hand and the need for such action to be covered by international law.
Officials now evoke "legitimate defense" as spelled out in the UN Charter to support strikes in Syria. France has already been attacked by extremists claiming ties to IS. Hollande, who has ruled out sending ground troops into Syria, has cited "proof" of plans for attacks on France and the growing danger to Syrian civilians, with a large chunk of the population fleeing in a massive exodus. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France was going after IS "sanctuaries where those who want to hit France are trained."
The goal of the strikes is to "slow, break, stop if possible the penetration of Daesh," Gen Vincent Desportes said on the iTele TV station, using the Arabic acronym for IS. Hollande stressed the importance of seeking a political solution for Syria. "More than ever the urgency is putting in place a political transition," including elements of the moderate opposition and Assad's regime, the statement said.