Murphy's Law: What Off Road Warriors Prefer


May 1, 2020: Toyota trucks are again getting some unwanted, by the manufacturer (officially anyway) publicity. This was the result of a Western anti-corruption NGO (Non-government organization) working in Sudan after dictator (since 1989) Omar al Bashir was overthrown in early 2019. The NGO gained access to documents about where the Bashir-supported RSF (Rapid Support Forces) irregular militias were getting their weapons and equipment.

One item of interest details where the RSF had gotten their new pickup trucks. This was unusual because some 90 percent of the vehicles Sudan imports each year are second-hand. Yet here were documents showing that the government had recently purchased 900 new Toyota pickup trucks, mainly for use by the RSF.

Since 2017 the RSF had been under the control of the Sudanese military and that provided justification for all manner of government support. The 30,000 man RSF was formed in 2013 by the National Intelligence and Security Services, who wanted more control over the Janjaweed (pro-government tribal militias) that participated in some of the more notorious operations in western Sudan (the Darfur region).

Bashir used the Janjaweed to fight rebellions tribes in Darfur, as well as any tribes the Janjaweed wanted to displace from their land so Janjaweed members could have it. Janjaweed had also been used in southern Sudan against non-Moslem separatist tribes that eventually (2012) became independent South Sudan.

The RSF was Bashir’s private army, and its atrocities were so frequent and numerous that Bashir was indicted as a war criminal in 2007 by the International Criminal Court. The new Sudan government sought to distance itself from all the sanctions connected with Bashir's bad behavior and made government documents available to NGOs that specialize in scrutinizing this data to determine who did what, when and to who. The new government also wanted to reduce the rampant corruption in Sudan, which was one of the reasons Bashir was finally ousted, despite the police state security system he had created. Because the RSF had been absorbed into the army there were a lot of documents detailing what equipment was received and those 900 Toyota trucks were a notable item because for Sudan such large purchases were unusual.

There were plenty of Toyota trucks in Sudan, and throughout Africa and the Middle East. While the Toyota Hilux pickup is fourth in worldwide annual sales (of about half a million a year) it is first in Africa and that has been the case for half a century. Add the Toyota Cruiser pickup and you can see why Toyota trucks so often show up in photos of irregular fighters throughout the region.

While most Sudanese vehicle imports are second-hand vehicles there are a few dealers in the country that can provide the new vehicles and these account for about ten percent of the imported cars and trucks. Purchasing a large number of new vehicles usually goes through dealers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) who have long specialized in that sort of thing. More importantly, the Saudi and UAE dealers are discreet and, once payment has been taken care of, the vehicles will arrive via ship at just about any designated port.

The NGO was able to use government documents and social media and commercial satellite photos to track the movement of this large number of new Toyota pickup trucks to the RSF and then to the various parts of Sudan where the RSF has been most active. The RSF is still in business despite talk of disbanding it, so any investigations by foreign NGOs have to be conducted at a distance. Sudan wants to disarm and disband the RSF without a lot of violence and chaos. A lot of those RSF Toyotas could disappear with their heavily armed users and create more rural violence.

Toyota trucks have been a notable feature of African and Middle Eastern rebel and Islamic terrorist groups for decades. One way to date unidentified photos of these irregulars is to study the Toyota trucks shown. There have been eight distinct “generations” of Toyota Hilux trucks since the 1960s and it is easy to tell the generations apart. As rugged as the Toyota pickups are, they don’t last long as combat vehicles. In commercial use these trucks will often last several decades without much maintenance or any repairs.

The Toyota Hilux has been in the news before because it was the favorite mode of transportation for one particular and notorious armed group. In 2015 it was discovered that ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) had paid a lot of money to persuade Middle Eastern Toyota dealers to provide the Islamic terror group with thousands of Toyota Hilux pickup trucks. The base price was about $20,000 but add in bribes and other expenses and ISIL probably spent over $100 million since 2013 to equip its forces with the coveted Hilux.

This came as no surprise to Toyota which has been selling the Hilux models to Middle Eastern customers for over half a century and has noted that the vehicle is widely popular there. There are two reasons for that reputation. First Hilux was designed to travel easily off roads. There are not a lot of roads in most of the Middle East. Second, the Hilux is built to last. That means the vehicle can take a lot of punishment, or just decades of use, and never break down. This is important in the Middle East where there are not a lot of repair facilities, skilled mechanics, or replacement part dealers.

In 2015 the current Hilux model, introduced in 2004 was the 7th generation truck. This model had sold over five million vehicles up to 2015, over 20 percent of them in the Middle East. Toyota began selling light trucks overseas in the early 1960s and the first Hilux model appeared in 1968. The current model is the “8th generation”, and began appearing in 2015 alongside the 7th generation models that ceased production shortly thereafter. Variants of each generation resulted in over a hundred different models, many of them customized to local conditions or tastes.

Often referred to as the “one ton” truck, the empty weight of most models is about 1.4 tons and these can carry about a ton of fuel, passengers and cargo. The fuel tank holds 76 liters (20 gallons) which will carry a lightly loaded Hilux about 1,000 kilometers on good (urban) roads, but about a third of that if fully loaded and moving across rough terrain.

In combat it is common to see a Hilux turned into a “technical” by bolting or welding a tripod for a heavy machine-gun (12.7mm or 14mm) to the cargo deck while still being able to carry ten or more armed men. This sort of thing first became widely known during the Libyan "Toyota War" with Chad in the 1970s and 1980s. Libyan troops, equipped with tanks and other armored vehicles, were completely routed by tribal irregulars firing from Toyota “technical”. These mobile tactics soon saw the Libyan Army expelled from Chad. Experienced war reporters then began to note that the militarized Hilux kept showing up again and again. That was no accident and it explains why ISIL and the RSF made the Toyota Hilux their favored combat vehicle.




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