The Vehicle of Desert Warfare

As a kid, I watched a World War II show called The Rat Patrol. Four Allied soldiers and two Jeep’s with mounted machine guns operated in North Africa. These fast, maneuverable vehicles allowed the Rat Patrol to stage hit and run attacks on German conveys.

Fast forward to the 1990s and the Taliban in Afghanistan were using the Toyota Hilux (below) in much the same way as the fictional Rat Patrol worked the desert terrain.  If you are not familiar with the Hilux, it is marketed overseas and resembles the Tacoma sold in the U.S.

The Hilux has continued to be used by military and terrorist groups across the Middle East. Toyota sells a lot of vehicles that end up in combat zones, through third parties and from Western countries providing them to friendly countries, but ending up with terrorists instead.  The U.S. provided a shipment to Syrian rebels and they may have ended up in the hands of ISIS. The U.S. Treasury Department has a division that tracks terrorist resources about the world.  Identifying vehicles that repeatedly change hands between international corporations can be difficult, particularly as vehicles move between shadowy intermediaries, like a pea in a shell game.

In addition to the Hilux, the Toyota Land Cruiser is also popular as a troop transport.  Somehow, Toyota has not used this in their marketing.

So, the question is: Why have Toyota vehicles become the preferred vehicle of military groups?  Terrorists appreciate the sturdiness and off-road reliability, and in part, for standardization of maintenance and repair. The ISIS fleet manager probably test drove a number of vehicles before deciding on the Toyota brand.  Toyota is not pleased with the identification and does not allow their vehicles to be sold for modification for combat. However, that has not made much difference, as terrorists from all over the globe seem to recommend Toyota.  Talk about brand loyalty!


The Hilux has been called “a game changer” for insurgent warfare. It is reliable and handles the rough terrain, and it is adaptable.  Experts have said that whereas the AK-47 is the weapon of choice, the Hilux is the vehicle of choice, and allows the mounting of heavy weapons like machine guns, cannons and anti-aircraft launchers.

Used vehicles are also in high demand and are sold on secondary markets that are harder to track.

Back in 2015, a used Ford F-150 famously showed up in news photos from Syria with a bed-mounted cannon. A lot of Fords allow show up on the battlefield, but this one still that the American plumbing company name on the sides.

Mark Oberholtzer, the previous truck owner, traded in the vehicle and was assured his decals, with his company phone number, would be removed. It was not. Mark -1 Plumbing became famous overnight and his business was flooded with angry and threatening phone calls. Oberholtzer sued the Ford dealership for not removing the decals.

Actually, the use of pickup trucks for combat can be traced as far back as the 1970s and have been part of militant actions in Somalia, the Sudan, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Even the British television show about cars, Top Gear, tested the resiliency of a Toyota pickup by putting a used one through a variety of tortures including submerging it in the ocean, setting it on fire, driving it through a building and falling from a tower in an explosion.  Somehow the vehicle started and was drivable.  Perfect for the rigors of terrorism or being the first vehicle of 16-year old (minus the anti-aircraft gun).

The Toyota Hilux even made it into an SNL parody commercial.

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