If France decides to join the United States in a strike against Syria, it would be the first time American and French forces have conducted a joint military operation since the Siege of Yorktown at the end of the American Revolutionary War.
France and the U.S. have had their famous disagreements over military action, most notably the Iraq war and France’s decision to leave Afghanistan before NATO and U.S. troops planned their drawdown. The two countries have also had some near-misses on joint operations. For example, in 1954, U.S. forces proposed an operation that would have saved French forces in the Battle of Dein Bien Phu against Communist militants in Vietnam. American planes would have taken off from bases in the Philippines. But the political risks of getting involved in the fight were too much for President Eisenhower, and he nixed the operation, called Operation Vulture.
Indeed, the United States and France have been allies in different conflicts throughout history. But the two nations have not gone after a target alone together since the War of Independence. And it just so happens to have been at the final decisive victory at Yorktown, Va.
France came to the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War following the colonials’ victory at Saratoga. The French, attempting to become the military power of Europe over Britain, signed the Treaty of Alliance in 1778, ushered through by Benjamin Franklin.
The French navy became a vital asset to the Americans in the fight against the British toward the end of the Revolution. Under the leadership of Comte de Grasse, the French defeated a British fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, giving Franco-Anglo ground forces an advantage going into the Siege of Yorktown.
Those forces, after uniting in New York City during the summer of 1781, headed down to Virginia and met the British for battle at Yorktown. The Americans, led by Gen. George Washington, and the French, led by Comte de Rochambeau, totaling near 19,000 troops, overcame the 9,000 British soldiers.
Following the battle, the British surrendered to American and French forces. Lord Cornwallis, the British commander, famously “became ill” and did not attend the surrender ceremony, handing the task to one of his aides. The Treaty of Paris came two years later in 1783, ending the Revolutionary War.
And, interestingly, this was the last joint operation between these two peoples, although the United States and France have conducted several joint military practice operations in recent years.