White paint markings found outside of Faya-Largeau, the largest city in northern Chad, serve as reminders even today of the hundreds of mines left behind from the war with Libya.
The conflict itself lasted for nearly a decade and by the mid-1980s escalated to the point that Gaddafi’s Libyan forces occupied most of the country’s north.
Despite having numeric advantages mostly in foot soldiers, Chadian forces were hopelessly outgunned, as it possessed little military equipment capable of going up against Libya’s Soviet T-55 tank.
That is until France and the United States intervened.
In an unconventional move, the French Air Force supplied Chad’s military with some 400 Toyota HiLux pickup trucks. This dramatically turned the war in Chad’s favour.
The HiLux proved a versatile, makeshift armoured vehicle in the harsh environment often with a .50 calibre assault weapon or MILAN anti-tank guided missile system rigged to the truck bed.
Fuel consumption, manoeuvrability and ease of conversion, what’s more, made it formidable for desert skirmishes.
Even so, the dangerous terrain laden with ‘sleeping policemen’ still posed a major challenge for Chadian forces until it was discovered that the HiLux could be jounced over Libyan anti-vehicle mines without setting them off.
To do so safely, irrespective of payload, they needed to exceed speeds of 62 mp/h.
How this exact speed was arrived at is a matter of contention. Whether it was discovered via kamikaze R&D or brilliantly intuited by the young commander, 31-year-old Hassan Djamous, who was responsible for major victories at Audi Doum and Fada, or rather the result of simply converting the speed to the metric system, an equivalent of 100 km/h, which was in practice at the time in both North Africa and France, speculation mostly eclipses material facts.
Djamous personally led troops in trucks over Libyan-laid minefields at Ouadi Doum as proof of concept. Initially, driving at a speed of 90 km/h was thought to cause a three-second delay before the mines exploded.
Djamous was not soon after badly injured demonstrating his three-second technique leading, not surprisingly, to an increase in the required speed. He later returned to the fray at Maaten al-Sarra.
The wheels of the vehicles when travelling at 100 km/h, as another theory would have it, were in contact with the mines for an estimated 1.8 milliseconds.
Legacy armoured vehicles typically can’t travel at this speed leaving more time for the mine, which relied on a magnetic field, to be triggered.
As a diesel engine, especially one made before 1984 when many of the Toyotas were produced, is averse to being revved for extended periods in top gear, a long-range speed is likely to have been maintained before any of the pickups entered a minefield.
What kind of timing was involved? How much downward force would it take to set the mines off? More questions abound. How low was tyre PSI to reduce contact pressure? If downward force does not change with momentum, how would velocity alleviate the pressure?
Could the huge rear leaf springs of the HiLux, presuming the theory is accurate, have helped it to stay level with extra weight?
On 2 January, 1987, Djamous deployed 3,000 men into battle at Fada where Libya lost almost 800 soldiers, 92 tanks, and 33 infantry fighting vehicles. Chad’s losses were minimal, just 18 soldiers and three pickups.
The “pale ectoplasm of statistics” as Robert Penn Warren likened the cold application of data in the American Civil War, of course, doesn’t account for the 7,500 dead nor the $1.5 billion dollars’ worth of military equipment destroyed or captured during hostilities that finally ended when Libyan forces were expelled in 1987.
The HiLux has since become an indispensable vehicle for military groups across the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Indeed, it was so effective in the Chad-Libya conflict historians often refer to it as the Toyota War. In nearby Liberia, where unrest at the time was already mounting, civil war would soon break out.
The Toyota HiLux again would have a major role to play. Although with cannibalism, witchcraft and rebels often affixing human skulls to the grilles of their vehicles during the conflict, historians have naturally been less than earnest in associating any major manufacturer with it.