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SERVICE ACTION (SA)

French commando units working within Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. The first Franco-British Service Action or SA teams appeared in Japanese occupied Laos towards the end of the Pacific War. They answered both to the SOE and to Free French authorities. The SA’s main mission was to prepare and direct subversive activities in enemy territory by creating insecurity behind the enemy’s lines through sabotage, ambushes, destructive actions, and assassination. It was also designed to solicit favour among local people, generate complicities, and develop contacts.

During the first half of the Indochina War, French military strategists showed little interest in SA operations. This changed in 1950, when the Americans, worried by communist advances in China, Korea, and Indochina, pressured the French to resume such World War II type of actions in Indochina. In April 1950, the French renewed their interest in SA operations when the Direction générale de documentation and the Service de documentation extérieure et de contre-espionnage produced a document entitled Étude sur l’organisation d’un Service Action. However, nothing apparently came of these efforts until the Americans tried to create their own separate SA in upper Indochina for using upland minority ethnic groups to harass the communists on their own turf, even into southern China. The French refused to let them take over SA operations in Indochina, but countered by establishing the Groupement de commandos mixtes aéorportés (GCMA), which retrieved a number of officers who had first worked in Japanese-occupied Laos during World War II, including Jean Sassi.

Action”, according to Edmond Grall of the GCMA, was designed to “create favourable conditions for the realisation of an act of war” when the moment came. In Indochina, he said, this meant two things mainly: (1) creating a permanent sense of insecurity behind the DRV’s lines and (2) developing contacts with local populations hostile to the Vietnamese. See also REVOLUTIONARY WARFARE; OFFICE OF STRATEGIC STUDIES.