France will carry out its first air strikes on the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria “in the coming weeks,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday.
The French air force has been carrying out reconnaissance missions over Syria since September 8, and strikes will follow “in the coming weeks, as soon as we have clearly identified targets,” Le Drian told France Inter radio.
On Tuesday, Le Drian told parliament the Islamic State had made “very significant progress” in Syria, especially in the northern region of Aleppo.
“There is an extremely strong offensive taking place on the small town of Marea, which if it succeeded would wipe out what we still call the Free Syrian Army or the national Syrian coalition, or what is left of it,” he said.
French President Francois Hollande, whose country is carrying out surveillance flights over Syria, said on Monday it would be “necessary” to carry out air strikes against Islamic State militants there.
“We announced surveillance flights that would allow us to prepare air strikes if they were necessary, and they will be necessary in Syria,” he told journalists after talks with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
France has been part of a US-led coalition bombing Isis positions in Iraq for the past year, but Hollande changed strategy last week to expand action to Syria as political pressure mounts over the jihadist threat faced by France.
Hollande said last week he had ordered surveillance flights because he wanted to find out “what is being prepared against us and what is being done against the Syrian population”.
Hollande's move to carry out air strikes in Syria also comes as Europe is buckling under the pressure of a flood of refugees from the war-torn country.
France has so far confirmed it has carried out two surveillance flights over Syrian territory.
The United States, Canada, Turkey and Gulf states have already been involved in strikes on Isis militants in Syria.
Australia also announced last week it would join the Syrian operation.
Britain killed two jihadists in a drone attack in Syria last week.