The Toyota Hilux truck is, by many accounts, as ubiquitous to guerrilla warfare as the AK-47. Since the vehicle’s introduction in the late 1960s, this lightweight, virtually indestructible truck has been a favorite of insurgents and rebels (and even U.S. Special Forces) from Somalia to Yemen, Afghanistan to Nicaragua. Why? Because, according to Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, it’s so tough that “it kicks the hell out of the Humvee.” Here are images of Toyotas in war zones from the last 30 years. (Toyota was unwilling to confirm that the vehicles in each image are Hiluxes, but the company did say that, though the vehicle may appear under different names, the Hilux is the only lightweight truck it makes.)
Sandinista fighters cram into the back of their Toyota in 1979. It’s not uncommon to see 20 people and a heavy machine gun in the back of similar vehicles today, says counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen.
El Salvador, 1980
Soldiers arrest the driver of a truck in San Salvador. The year marked the beginning of a 12-year guerrilla war between leftist insurgents and the right-wing National Republican Alliance Party.
A double-cab Toyota carries fighters of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), then a rebel group, in Addis Ababa. One of the movement’s leaders, Meles Zenawi, is now prime minister of Ethiopia.
Militiamen in Mogadishu sit in a Toyota with a heavy machine gun bolted to its bed. The fighting Toyotas became known as “technicals” at around this time.
Another reason so many forces, like these Rwandan troops (seen here just before the nation’s genocide and civil war), use the trucks is that they’re practically indestructible.
The Taliban, once a local militia, took over Afghanistan in the 1990s, perhaps partly because of the mobility that smuggled Toyota trucks brought them. According to The New York Times, Taliban officials subsequently used the vehicles to patrol the streets, enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic law.
“The Wrecking Crew,” a group of Liberian street fighters loyal to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, rides around the capital, Monrovia, while the group’s 15-year-old leader, Commander Top Rock (center, with sunglasses), watches from the back of the truck.
Hutu refugees ride through the jungle near Goma, following a series of clashes between rival militias in the area.
Armed supporters of the radical Islamic cleric Maulana Masood Azhar surround his Toyota as he arrives at his hometown in northwest Pakistan. Azhar was reportedly connected with Al Qaeda; many members of that group still drive Hiluxes through the region, according to counterinsurgency expert Kilcullen.
American Special Forces also used Toyotas while searching for Taliban and Al Qaeda forces shortly after the U.S. invasion.
It’s not just fighters who use the trucks. Displaced Lebanese used the vehicle to help move in and out of contested areas of south Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel.
Soldiers wielding the icon of insurgent warfare, the AK-47, ride to a frontline section of Mogadishu to battle Islamic extremist fighters associated with Al Shabab.
A Toyota truck travels near Sana, that nation’s capital, in the midst of intermittent fighting between government forces and Shiite Houthi rebels. The U.N. estimates that 175,000 people have been displaced since the fighting began in 2004.