Why Rebel Groups Love the Toyota Hilux

As the war in Afghanistan escalated several years ago, counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, a member of the team that designed the Iraq surge for Gen. David Petraeus, began to notice a new tattoo on some insurgent Afghan fighters. It wasn’t a Taliban tattoo. It wasn’t even Afghan. It was a Canadian maple leaf.

When a perplexed Kilcullen began to investigate, he says, he discovered that the incongruous flags were linked to what he says is one of the most important, and unnoticed, weapons of guerrilla war in Afghanistan and across the world: the lightweight, virtually indestructible Toyota Hilux truck.

“In Afghanistan in particular,” he says, “[the trucks are] incredibly well respected.” So well respected, in fact, that some enterprising fraudsters thought them worthy of ripping off. The imitations, Kilcullen says, had flooded the market, leaving disappointed fighters in their wake. But then “a shipment of high-quality [real] Hiluxes arrived, courtesy of the Canadian government,” he explains. “They had little Canadian flags on the back. Because they were the real deal, and because of how the Hilux is seen, over time, strangely, the Canadian flag has become a symbol of high quality across the country. Hence the tattoos.”

via Why Rebel Groups Love the Toyota Hilux.

Most of my experience was seeing nomadic herders riding around in Saudi Arabia, where apparently the purchase of a Hilux is subsidized by the government. Mind you, this was in the innocent days before 9/11 or even Mogadishu, where VBIEDs and even technicals were outside the lexicon.

But the point is, virtually anywhere you go in the third world, you’ll find the simple, rugged Toyota pick up truck trucking along.

2 thoughts on “Why Rebel Groups Love the Toyota Hilux”

  1. I can remember seeing the Hilux being driven around in large numbers back in 1998, during my first trip to Kuwait (we were staying out at Ali Al-Saleem Air Base as part of that build-up for what we thought might be another invasion of Iraq). According to the British troops at the airfield (mostly supporting and flying Tornadoes), Japan had shipped an enormous number of Hiluxes to Kuwait as their form of foreign aid after the 1st Gulf War. I don’t know if that part was accurate, but I know from flying all around Kuwait at a couple of hundred feet that those vehicles were everywhere: downtown in the capitol, out in the desert, on the highway, etc…. Everywhere we went, we saw little white pickup trucks.

    It kind of reminds me of how you see VW bugs everywhere when you’re in Mexico City. After a while, you just accept it and stop noticing it….

    1. There was an entire set of actions in Chad in the late 80s called the Toyota Wars. They had every last conceivable weapon bolted or welded to the beds and frames of those things, and buzzed around at 50kph blasting away at the Libyans. They did a number on ’em, too.

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