The Common Thread Linking Libya, Yemen and Syria

A common thread, or to be more precise a white metal common thread, links the three conflicts devastating North Africa and the Middle East: the one in Iraq and Syria, the one in Yemen and the one in Libya. And it has always been right before our eyes because the photos and videos that arrived from the three fronts were clear. There was always a recurring element that often paled into the background: the vehicles used by the terrorists and the militia groups fighting in all three theatres of war. There was one type in particular: the Toyota pick-up.

Everybody remembers the columns of these trucks flying the black flag of the Caliphate as the militias of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi bit by bit conquered Iraq and most of Syria. These scenes were for many months, if not years, some of the most well-known propaganda of the Islamic State. The columns of vehicles appeared like the ranks of some dark sacred army wishing to retrace the steps of the forces of the sultanates and caliphates that for centuries dominated the Muslim world. And they reappeared in the deserts of the Middle East and the Maghreb but this time they were motorised and they were terrorists.

The images went around the world but they demonstrated one thing in particular: there were hundreds (if not thousands) of Toyota vehicles, all of them the same, used by the Islamic State. The images from Syria and Iraq also began to be of interest to American intelligence. According to an Abc News investigation the US State Department had already asked the Japanese manufacturer for information on the trafficking in the trucks that swelled the Caliphate’s columns. Toyota said it was impossible to track the path of all the vehicles used in the world but it is clear that a matrix can be found by examining the large shipments of pick-ups acquired over the last few years. Something was there. And something came out. Investigations by various newspapers revealed shipments of Toyota pick-ups to crisis zones.

According to an investigation by Public Radio International 43 Toyota vehicles were sold by the State Department to rebels in the Free Syrian Army engaged in the war against Bashar al Assad. They were all part of the non-lethal aid delivered to the militia groups that inevitably fell into the hands of the jihadis who immediately gained the upper hand over the other rebels. Another investigation, again relating to Syria, conducted this time by the Australian Daily Telegraph shed light on hundreds of Toyota Hiluxes that disappeared from Sydney which anti-terrorism experts believe could have fallen into the hands of the Caliphate, perhaps exported by a high-level circle of foreign fighters.

These columns of Toyotas were however not only used in the propaganda images of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. They immediately appeared in another country in which the Caliphate took shape as well: Libya. Here the Islamist propaganda videos showed hundreds of pick-ups forming a sort of barbarian horde approaching the cities that were about to fall to the Islamic State. But it must be emphasised that the vehicles, which have been turned into fully-fledged armoured vehicles with weapons mounted on them and transformed into anti-aircraft batteries or artillery pieces, constantly appear in every image from the various fronts. If you look at the photos from Tripoli, at the front line following the advance by Khalifa Haftar, you can always see the same vehicles: always the same armoured pick-ups, armed to the teeth and used by all the combatants close to Fayez al Sarraj as well as some militia groups linked to the Marshal of Cyrenaica. In this case as well, InsideOver’s sources in Tripoli have spoken of shipments of Toyotas arriving from Qatar which are already armoured. An item of information that to brings to mind the report that circulated for several months on the internet that the Japanese car manufacturer made reference to trade in thousands of vehicles between the various gulf monarchies which were then resold by men from these states to the various groups and militias connected to them. This reaffirms the axis between Qatar and the Tripoli based government. Once again the common thread of iron and blood that links the Gulf monarchies with the war zones where the proxy war element is also strong.

Finally, Yemen. In the most forgotten, obscure and tragic war of the last few decades photos of the Toyota pickups have also appeared. And a preliminary remark should be made: photos from Yemen are rare, tend to come from the government or in any case militias not allied to the Houthi, and are almost always linked to the humanitarian tragedy. Photos from agencies that only describe the battlefields are very rare. But here too, where there is always a proxy war and the Gulf monarchies are always involved, one vehicle stands out and unites all the great North African and Middle Eastern conflicts. The Toyota trucks, which have now become a constant factor and have slipped out of the control of the Japanese manufacturer, reappeared. And in this case too they can be found amongst the militias linked to the government which in turn belongs to the great potentates of the Arabian peninsula, from Riyadh to Dubai and from Doha to Abu Dhabi. A constant element which, however, can tell us a lot about how things can be stopped and who should be stopped in order resolve these conflicts.


Translation from Italian by Dale Owens