The United States has launched an investigation to determine how the terror group ISIS was able to acquire a large number of Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs ABC News reported this week.
Japanese car manufacturer Toyota, the world’s second-largest auto maker, has pledged full cooperation with U.S. authorities and is “supporting” the inquiry led by the Terror Financing division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
“We briefed Treasury on Toyota’s supply chains in the Middle East and the procedures that Toyota has in place to protect supply chain integrity,” according to a D.C.-based spokesperson of Toyota. However, “it is impossible for Toyota to completely control indirect or illegal channels through which our vehicles could be misappropriated,” he added.
According to Toyota sales data, the number of Hilux and Land Cruisers sold tripled from 6,000 in Iraq in 2011 to 18,000 sold in 2013. However, sales dropped to 13,000 in 2014.
Toyota Hilux pickup trucks – a lightweight virtually indestructible vehicle – have been prominently featured in various ISIS propaganda videos and played an important role in ISIS’ conquests of large stretches of Iraqi territory last summer by acting as a force multiplier.
Armed with a .50 caliber machine gun the Hilux truck’s maneuverability provided insurgents quickly with close-range fire support during their attacks. Back in 2010, the counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen referred to the Hilux as “a modern version of light cavalry. They move weapons into positions to fire, and can also shift people around very quickly, with a quick dismount.”
Last year, in an analysis for The European (in German), I referred to the pickup trucks as the insurgents’ equivalent of Germany’s light tank force during their Blitzkrieg campaigns in World War II. Like the German tanks in the 1940s, the images of Hilux trucks armed with machine guns and with hooded ISIS fighters on top of the vehicle serve as much as psychological weapon to intimidate opponents as they add real value on the battlefield.
“Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand,” Mark Wallace, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who is CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit working to expose the financial support networks of terror groups, told ABS News.
“ISIS has used these vehicles in order to engage in military-type activities, terror activities, and the like,” Wallace continued. “But in nearly every ISIS video, they show a fleet — a convoy of Toyota vehicles and that’s very concerning to us.”
Toyota pledged that it would take immediate action should the company become aware that a dealership is selling cars to a terror group, but repeatedly stated the difficulties of tracking sales. Wallace, however, is adamant that the company could do more:
I don’t think Toyota’s trying to intentionally profit from it, but they are on notice now and they should do more. They should be able to figure it out… how are these trucks getting there. I think they should disclose that, put a stop to that, and put policies and procedures in places that are real and effective to make sure that we don’t see videos of ISIS using Toyota trucks in the future.
Officials of the Terror Financing division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury said that they are “working closely with foreign counterparts and stakeholders” to solve the mystery surrounding the large number of Toyota vehicles operated by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.