France has fired its first airstrikes in Syria as it expands military operations against Islamic State extremists, President Francois Hollande's office announced today. The office said that "France has hit Syria" based on information from French reconnaissance flights sent earlier this month. France has been firing airstrikes on ISIS extremists in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition since last year, but had resisted airstrikes in Syria because it didn't want to strengthen President Bashar al-Assad. Hollande announced a change in strategy earlier this month because of growing concern about the Syrian refugee crisis. The president's office argued today that it was a question of national defense, as France has been attacked and threatened by extremists claiming ties to ISIS.
Hollande, heading to the UN General Assembly, also stressed the importance of a political solution for Syria. "More than ever the urgency is putting in place a political transition," including elements of the opposition and Assad's regime, Hollande said. France has remained opposed however to recent diplomatic suggestions of allowing Assad to stay in power for a limited time. French military officials have said they would target ISIS training and logistical sites. The French government has insisted that while it is part of the US-led coalition, Paris is deciding who and what to hit independently. Hollande announced Sept. 7 that France would start airstrikes, days after the photo of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy galvanized public concern. In his statement today, Hollande said: "Civilian populations must be protected from all forms of violence, that of IS and other terrorist groups but also the murderous bombardments of Bashar Assad."