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Site of a decisive 1954 battle between the French and the Vietminh. In a stunning defeat for the French, Vietminh forces, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, surrounded and overwhelmed 12,000 French troops at a valley stronghold that had previously been declared impregnable. After a 55-day siege in which all of their supply routes were cut off, the French surrendered.
With China's embrace of communism in 1950, U.S. leaders viewed communist movements in Indochina as a sign of dangerous expansion. China openly supported Ho Chi Minh's forces, but never actually entered the war.
France granted Laos full independence within the French Union in 1953. Shortly thereafter, Laos would become a pawn in the battle between communist and U.S. forces. Central to Laos's importance was the fact that a major supply route, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ran through it.
Ruled by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia sought to remain independent of conflicts taking place in Vietnam. These efforts fell short and Cambodia became a hot spot in the conflict.