September 1950: MAAG Sent to Aid French Forces in Vietnam

An American Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) was sent to Vietnam in September 1950 by US President Harry Truman to assist French forces in the First Indochina War. During this time, President Truman claimed they were not sent as combat troops, but to supervise the use of $10 million worth of US military equipment to support the French in their effort to fight the Việt Minh. By 1953, aid increased dramatically to $350 million to replace old military equipment owned by the French. Technically, MAAG before 1955 served the whole of Indochina (MAAG Indochina) until it was split into separate groups in November 1955 to serve the individual countries South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The French Army, however, was reluctant to take US advice and would not allow the Vietnamese army to be trained to use the new equipment because it went against French policy. The French saw themselves as not only supposed to defeat the enemy forces but also to solidify themselves as a colonial power, and they could not do this with a Vietnamese army trained in the use of modern American weapons. French commanders were so reluctant to accept advice from the MAAG that would weaken their colonial role that they got in the way of the various attempts by the MAAG to observe where the equipment was being sent and how it was being used. Eventually, French Army leaders decided to cooperate although at that point it was too late, with General Henri Navarre allowing the US to send liaison officers to Vietnamese forces in 1954, only months before their defeat at the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ.

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