David Guttenfelder / AP
Photos: Pickup Trucks From War Zones Across the Globe
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.”
It’s not just rebels in Afghanistan that love the Hilux. “The Toyota Hilux is everywhere,” says Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and now a fellow of the Center for a New American Security. “It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee.”