In 2011 I had witnessed, like many others, what was the violent offshoot to the peaceful Arab Spring. It all went to Libya, a country rich in oil that was ruled by a self-proclaimed “King of Africa”. The first images shown was the rebel groups fighting a number of African mercenaries and loyalist armies across large deserts leading to towns and the oil fields which had dotted Libya. While the national army was firing upon rebels with the use of tanks and APCs, the rebels were fighting back…with Toyota pickup trucks.
As the Libyan war ended and the Syrian conflict continued there was more Toyota trucks to be seen driven by both the FSA and ISIS groups. This got me thinking, why Toyota and what does it’s connection have to the rebel groups and the militias of the world. It seemed to have it’s place in almost all later 20th and early 21st century conflicts. Driven by the Taliban, used in the roads of Rwanda, and now a key offensive technical vehicle allowing the IS to move between Syria and Iraq. Toyota pickup has been the technical vehicle of choice in modern-day conflicts.
The most common pickup used is the Toyota Hilux, it’s been praised by many as an invincible truck known to withstand crashes, heat, sand, and anything else thrown at it. Being cheap and readily available in much of the developing countries, commandeering one for battle took no effort at all. The most famous was the 1980s models, as shown in the following video, a 1988 Toyota Hilux has been abused by the people over in Top Gear UK and still manages to start up despite all the damage it has taken.
One of the first major uses of the Toyota pickup was the aptly-named Toyota War, an 10 month conflict which solidified Chad in gaining a key strip of land from Libya. While Chad was supported by the French government, one of the major technicals used by the Chadian forces was the Toyota Hilux. The 1980s model were well know to strife through the Libyan roads and away from airstrikes. It was quick and reliable, which also made a great ally in anti-tank warfare. Utilizing French-made MILAN’s anti-tank missile system, Chad’s paramilitary groups were able to mount them onto the trucks and provide tank destruction at a moments notice. And of course it was able to carry soldiers when needed.
Like many forces who would continue to use Toyotas, Chad’s rebel groups are infantry-based, unless backed by another country, the use of tanks is a rare occurrence due to acquiring a tank, the training involved, and the lack of knowledge on tank based tactics. But this didn’t stop the Chadian rebels and soldiers, on April 13, 1987, the Lodi News-Sentinel, explained with great amusement how the Libyan army lost to the Chadian forces:
“786 Libyans were killed in two days of battles in which the sluggish Libyan tanks and armored personnel carriers were no match for Chad’s aresenal of speedy civilian pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, RPGs, and anti-tank rockets, Chadian officers said . . . The Soviet-made T-55 tanks became bogged down in the talcum-powder-like sand while Chad’s jerry-built civilian-military vehicles raced across the dunes at 70 mph” – Source
The Return of the Hilux in Libya
Another more modern use of the Hilux came in the form of the 2011 Libyan Civil War, judging from footage it seems as though the same 1980s Hilux makes a return. The difference between the Toyota War and the Civil War was that this time the rebel groups knew fully well about the lay of the land better than groups of mercenaries that was hired by Gaddafi. The trucks were still reliable as ever, some where well past the 300,000 mile limit but still road well. As an added bonus, the ubiquity of the same model allowed for the pickups to be reconfigured and repaired. This resourcefulness was proven helpful once NATO intervened. With downed Libyan jets, many of the rebels re-engineered the rocket launchers to be mounted on the pickup trucks. This allowed for the pickups not only to be used as infantry and anti-tank/aircraft support, but for the first time it was used as artillery.
The Civil War also marked the first time where the Toyota Corporation made efforts to intervene. A dealership opened up shop in Libya in 2010 but closed shortly after once the war began. Once the dealership opened up again, efforts were made to curb purchases. This included the refusal to sell unusually large numbers as well as selling models that weren’t capable of the same load of heavy artillery. And even still it was reported that many Libyan’s are continuing to modify and correct the flaws on “less capable” trucks (Source).
Newer Models in the Hands of ISIS
Currently, as of 2014, fighting is continuing in areas that are controlled by the IS (formerly ISIS and referred politically as ISIL). Interestingly, the use of pickups is not widely used by IS forces. The pickup do the usual work of infantry support in the areas between Iraq and Syria, they don’t pick up on the Libyan’s rebels use as artillery and rockets (this excludes the use of anti-aircraft equipment which has been improvised as artillery in urban areas). Even though the Syrian Air Force has been using the same rockets used by the Libyan Air Force.
But more interestingly is that both FSA and ISIS fighters have been seen with newer models. While some have began using either the original 1980s models and repurposing them to being slow moving armored tanks. There are newer ones as pictured above and below:
Where have these been coming from? There could be speculation on 2 different sources: American-based mercenary companies working in Iraq, which have been known to add further armor before shipping the vehicles to conflicted regions and another from a factory in Pakistan, outputting newer models of the Hilux. According to eyewitness by US forces fighting in Afghanistan that the Taliban have already been using Toyotas much the same way other military groups already have. It’s not so surprising that with a closer factory and surrounding non-conflicted countries that the purchasing and delivery of these vehicles is a great possibility. Newer models mean a better performance output and a stronger body on-frame design favored by pickup truck engineers.
Case Study: Ukrainian Paramilitary Groups
So it’s understood that many rebel groups, revolutionaries, and insurgents have created a liking to the Toyota and the Hilux in particular. How useful can they really be in a battlefield? A good example of a conflict that doesn’t involve the pickup would be the following the current war in Ukraine.
The battles in Ukraine are fought differently, there is a strong emphasis on roads, there are lesser known fortifications, as well as trenches. The ground isn’t the sands of the Middle-East but rather soil. It makes for a perfect reason to use the Hilux and other pickups. However, this being an eastern european country, there is less emphasis on practical/war-ready use and more emphasis on style and personality. It’s not the fault of anyone, it’s a country that has been thrown into a civil war it simply wasn’t prepared to fight unlike the areas mentioned above which have already familiarized themselves with conflict. As a result, what has been used by volunteer groups such as Azov and Donbass Battalions have been vans and SUVs. They aren’t even armored, they are the kinds that Americans would see on the roads today. Ukraine was formerly the only other Soviet republic manufacturing civilian vehicles, this hasn’t changed as many of those companies such as ZAZ and KrAZ still exist.
ZAZ and KrAZ produce civilian vehicles and military trucks respectively. So it’s not uncommon to find these vehicles used by Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists. But the ZAZ was never made for anything considered tough and volunteer battalions acquire very few of KrAZ-made vehicles. On top of which, KrAZ develops heavier and slower trucks used only for transport. The minivans of ZAZ are not built for war and yet many use these cars for cover and for slow moving transport.
Of course the aims for these battalions and for Ukraine forces is to slowly drive out separatist fighters from the region. The immediacy of the situation takes a backseat due to political needs in both the country itself and it’s relationship with Russia. But in any case, the vehicles being used in Ukraine are by no means a good way of flushing out the forces. As you can see in the images above, the fighting in Ukraine isn’t a is a quick blitz like the wars fought in the middle east. It’s a slower war which has left soldiers literally entrenched and fought primarily by artillery strikes than infantry groups. This is why some of their heavier trucks are used in a similar fashion as Hilux’s to varying degrees of success.
But what does that mean for the Hilux? Would a Hilux fair well as a technical for Ukrainian or Separatist groups? Based on the amount of fighting in field than urban areas, the Hilux would work well in this situation especially seeing that most soldiers on both sides are rarely placed in fortified areas. It’s really a shame that there is no stronger use for pickups in this side of world, as the Hilux is being favored more by rebel groups who have proven it’s use.
A couple of US Soldiers were interviewed in Afghanistan, what was one of the issues they had faced involving the Taliban? The use of the Toyota Hilux, or militarily speaking the “technical”. To many, it’s the new light cavalry, it’s the horse that takes the dragoons into battle, it’s what brings the cannons in. It’s the fast transport can take squads of soldiers anywhere and drop them off into places where they are needed most. Mobility is the best weapon in a rebel’s hand when facing a modernized military force. The Hilux provides the best protection and best offensive when fighting in an outnumbered scenario. And while it’s the kalashnikov that protects the rebel in the battlefield, it’s the Hilux that takes them there.