Toyota and the Taliban: How the pickup truck became a terrorist favorite

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As videos beamed across the world of the Taliban’s shockingly swift takeover of Afghanistan, a familiar sighting was the widespread imagery of the group’s favored mode of transport: Toyota pickup trucks.

The sturdy vehicles made by the Japanese auto maker are popular based on their indestructible reputation, and became a curious iconic symbol of Taliban force in the 1990s.


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The vehicles are also popular with other terror groups, including Al Qaeda and ISIS, and can not only withstand Afghanistan’s rugged terrain but are study enough to be retrofitted with heavy machinery.

The first time the Taliban’s fighters stormed the presidential palace, back in 1996, journalists from India Today described how “tanks and ammunition-laden Toyota Hilux trucks raced into Afghanistan’s capital.” The vehicles were “ideal platforms for intimidation and enforcement,” the New York Times wrote in 2001.

“From their Land Cruisers and Hiluxes, the Taliban were ready to leap down and beat women for showing a glimpse of ankle or to lock a man in a shipping container for three weeks until his beard grew to the approved length. Or, most dismal, to drag an accused adulterer or blasphemer to the soccer stadium for execution.”

Afghan Taliban fighters sit in the back of a pick up truck on the way to the frontline north of Kabul, 27 September 2001.(File photo: AFP)
Afghan Taliban fighters sit in the back of a pick up truck on the way to the frontline north of Kabul, 27 September 2001.(File photo: AFP)

Toyota has long worked to distance its association with terror groups and has publicly supported a US Treasury Department investigation into how their vehicles fall into the hands of terrorists.

The automaker also announced a new policy this year when they launched the 2022 model of the Toyota Land Cruiser, the company’s longest-running model. After it went on sale in Japan on August 2, priced at around $46,500, the car manufacturer announced that anyone buying one had to sign a contract promising not to resell the vehicle within a year,

In a statement, Toyota confirmed the purpose of this clause. The Land Cruiser, Toyota said, “is particularly popular overseas, and we are concerned about the flow of vehicles from Japan to overseas immediately after their release, as well as the possibility of them being exported to certain regions where security regulations are in place.”

Selling Toyotas to proscribed groups like rogue governments or terrorist outfits can invite legal penalties. “There is a risk of violating foreign exchange law, and depending on the export destination, it may lead to major problems that threaten global security,” Toyota said in its statement.

Terror groups can also get their hands on them through unscrupulous ways. Toyota SUVs are the preferred vehicles of humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations—the latter a group Toyota supplied with 150,000 vehicles over the last four decades.

With the international aid groups operating in many developing countries, its vehicles can become ripe for theft by terrorists who might steal them, buy them through unlicensed sellers, or find them through other channels.

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