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  Page 15 (The Formative Years )    


The Formative Years

Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam-Origins of U.S. Marine Assistance-Political Stabilisation and Its Effects-Reorganisation and Progress-Summing Up Developments


When the Geneva cease-fire went into effect in the late summer of 1954, the machinery for implementing the military phase of the American assistance program for South Vietnam already existed. President Truman had ordered the establishment of a U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (USMAAG or MAAG) in French Indochina in mid-1950 as one of several reactions to the North Korean invasion of the Republic of Korea. Established to provide materiel support to the French Expeditionary Corps, the MAAG constituted little more than a logistical funnel through which U.S. military aid had been poured.

Lieutenant General John M. ('Iron Mike') 0'Daniel, U.S. Army, had been assigned to command the MAAG in the spring of 1954. O'Daniel's selection for the Saigon post anticipated a more active U.S. role in training of the Vietnamese National Army. He had been chosen for the assignment largely on the basis of his successful role in creating and supervising the training programs which had transformed the South Korean Army into an effective fighting force during the Korean War. Now, in the aftermath of the Geneva settlement, he and his 342-man group began preparing for the immense task of rebuilding South Vietnam's armed forces.

The entire American project to assist the South Vietnamese in the construction of a viable state was delayed during the fall of 1954 while the necessary diplomatic agreements were negotiated among American, French, and South Vietnamese officials. President Elsenhower dispatched General J. Law-ton Collins, U.S. Army (Retired), to Saigon in November to complete the details of the triangular arrangements. Collins carried with him the broad powers which would be required to expedite the negotiations.

By mid-January 1955, the president's special envoy had paved the way for the transfer of responsibility for training, equipping, and advising the Vietnamese National Army from the French to the USMAAG. He and General Paul Ely, the officer appointed by the Paris government to oversee the French withdrawal from Indochina, had initialed a 'Minute of Understanding.' In accordance with this document, the United States agreed to provide financial assistance to the French military in Vietnam in exchange for two important concessions. First, the French pledged to conduct a gradual military withdrawal from South Vietnam in order to prevent the development of a military vacuum which might precipitate a North Vietnamese invasion. Secondly, they accepted an American plan to assist in a transition stage during which the responsibility for rebuilding the Vietnamese military could be transferred to the MAAG in an orderly fashion. General Collins, in addition to engineering the understanding with General Ely, had advised Premier Diem to reduce his 210,000-man military and naval forces to a level of 100,000, a figure which the U.S. State Department felt the United States could realistically support and train.

The American plan to begin assisting South Vietnam encountered further delay even after the Ely-Collins understanding had been reached. Ely's government, arguing that the United States had agreed to provide only one-third of the amount France had requested to finance its Indochina forces, refused to ratify the agreement. The deadlock was finally resolved on 11 February 1955 when French



Page 15 (The Formative Years )