Choosy rebels choose Toyota

 

ISIS likes its Toyotas shiny. And matching.
ISIS likes its Toyotas shiny. And matching.

A little quick hit from this morning’s news: US anti-terrorism officials want to know how ISIS managed to get its hands on so many Toyota pickup trucks, and they’ve asked the automaker to help them figure it out.

Toyota Hilux pickups, an overseas model similar to the Toyota Tacoma, and Toyota Land Cruisers have become fixtures in videos of the ISIS campaign in Iraq, Syria and Libya, with their truck beds loaded with heavy weapons and cabs jammed with terrorists. The Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, told ABC News that in addition to re-purposing older trucks, his government believes ISIS has acquired “hundreds” of “brand new” Toyotas in recent years.

“This is a question we’ve been asking our neighbors,” Faily said. “How could these brand new trucks… these four wheel drives, hundreds of them — where are they coming from?”

Honestly, US officials seems a little late to game on this one. Analysts, reporters, bloggers, seemingly anyone who has bothered to look has long noticed just how common ISIS-branded Toyotas have become. Even Saturday Night Live is on top of the news. In fact the tough little pickups are so ubiquitous in ISIS photos and videos that one online wit has suggested leveraging its popularity for an ad campaign, which might look something like this:

Toyota-5 isis ad

The Islamic State’s preference for Toyota products really shouldn’t surprise anyone. They have been the vehicle of choice for rebel groups worldwide for decades now. Check out some pictures below. They were so prominent on the battlefield that the last phase of the Chad-Libya conflict of the 1980s is commonly referred to as the Toyota War.

Charging across the desert near the Chad-Libya border
Fighting the Toyota War

From Latin America to Africa to the Middle East, these little trucks have been in nearly every conceivable warzone loaded with every manner of weaponry. Someone even welded a tank turret to one in the recent Libyan civil war.

Rebel groups love these things because they are virtually indestructible. The BBC show Top Gear tried mightily to kill one and failed spectacularly. (You can watch the video here.) You can find Toyota war wagons featured on Pinterest boards and in Reddit threads.

In the Afghan war, the trucks became so coveted that enterprising entrepreneurs flooded the market with counterfeits.  Security analyst and former US Army Ranger Andrew Exum summarized the appeal for Newsweek back in 2010:

The Toyota Hilux is everywhere. 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.

While questions about ISIS use of Toyota trucks have circulated for years, Toyota executives say that they have procedures in place to ensure that their vehicles are not “diverted to unauthorized military use.” In a statement to ABC News, Toyota said it was not aware of any dealership selling to the terror group but “would immediately” take action if it did, including termination of the distribution agreement.

**Can’t you just imagine ISIS buyers strolling into their local dealership for Toyotathon’s rock-bottom prices and the best trade-in values in town? Yeah. Me neither. **

While Toyota may not know how all those trucks ended up stuffed with ISIS fighters, an Australian newspaper may have figured it out. The Daily Telegraph back in August reported that more than 800 Toyota Hilux pickups have gone missing in Sydney between 2014 and 2015, with terrorism experts there speculating that they were exported to ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq. Meanwhile, with the Iraqi-Syria border out of their control, there’s little Iraqi security forces can do to stop it.

Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua
Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua

 

Militias ride in style in Mogadishu
Militias ride in style in Mogadishu

 

Serious firepower in the Libyan civil war
Serious firepower in the Libyan civil war

American holocaust (updated)

roseberg

I would ask news organizations — because I won’t put these facts forward — have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.  This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. — President Barack Obama

I had come in to my office this morning planing to answer the president’s call to display, side by side, the number of Americans killed by terrorism over the last 10 years versus those slain by gun violence. Turns out I don’t have to.

First, from CNN:

Using numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2004 and 2013, 316,545 people died by firearms on U.S. soil. (2013 is the most recent year CDC data for deaths by firearms is available.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide.

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2004 to 2013 was 277.

In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the U.S.* and found that between 2004 and 2013, there were 36 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism. This brings the total to 313.

gun terror deaths 1

Second from the Washington Post:

It’s incontrovertibly true that more people in America die from gun violence each year than die from terrorism. How “terrorism” is defined can be tricky, as we’ve noted in the past, but we can look at data compiled by the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland.

It estimates that 18 people died in terror attacks in the United States last year — of 3,521 total between 1970 and 2014. By comparison, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive figures that 9,948 people have been killed by gun violence so far in 2015.

gun terror deaths 2

Finally from Forbes:

According to Justice and State Department data published by Vox, over ten thousand Americans are killed by gun violence every year. Since 9/11, the number of U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks each year has never surpassed 75. Obama has pointed out that while the U.S. rightfully pours trillions of dollars into protecting its citizens from terrorism, Congress is unwilling to take even the most minor steps to eradicate gun violence.

gun terror deaths 3

Yes, the raw numbers in each graph are different, but the relationship is unmistakable. Deaths of Americans due to terrorism are trivial compared to the slaughter that Americans inflict upon themselves through gun violence.

A political system that cannot address this crisis is nothing less than a failure. Political leaders who refuse to take even the most modest steps to address this crisis have the blood of innocents on their hands.


Update

Speaking of leaders refusing to take modest steps, or even acknowledge that there’s a problem, this today from Jeb Bush:

We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this. It’s very sad to see, and I resist this notion because we had this challenge as governor – stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.

You can listen for yourself.

 

For Syria insurgents Russia is the hammer, ISIS the anvil

At The Atlantic this afternoon, the headline asks: “Just Who is Russia Targeting in Syria?”

After two days of airstrikes, I think the answer is pretty clear. Russia is clearing the field of “moderate” rebels, setting the civil war up as a showdown between the Assad regime and ISIS.

The map below, from the Institute of the Study of War, shows the locations of Russia’s first-day airstrikes, all well away from areas under ISIS control. Today’s strikes were apparently more of the same, though Russia contended that they had in fact hit ISIS targets in other parts of the country (but this was disputed by pro-Damascus media).

Institute for the Study of War
Institute for the Study of War

Assuming it works, this presents the rest of the world, and the United States in particular, with the uncomfortable choice of backing Russia’s longtime ally or seeing the country fall to the Islamic State. As the New York Times notes, this puts the US in a bind:

But the United States has long held that Mr. Assad must step down before a stable peace can be achieved. Lately, President Obama has added some nuance, saying that Mr. Assad could be part of a “managed transition” to a new government.

For their part, the Russians echo the Syrian government line that there is no distinction between the various groups at war with Assad:

In response to a question about which organizations in the region Russia considers to be fair targets, [Russian foreign minister Sergey] Lavrov was equally vague, saying: “If it looks like a terrorist, walks like a terrorist, acts like a terrorist, fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?”

That answer is a little too convenient for Russian interests to be taken at face value. The insurgent groups that Putin’s warplanes have hit over the last two days include the Army of Conquest, a coalition of Islamist groups, as well as the Western-backed Free Syrian Army. Despite their ideological differences, what these groups have in common is that they are waging a two-front battle against both the regime and ISIS.

At a press conference on Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter argued that in “seemingly taking on everybody fighting Assad,” the Russian effort is doomed to failure. But the pattern of Russian airstrikes suggests they’re specifically not taking on everybody. At least not with equal vigor.

If the other Syrian insurgent groups are smashed between a Russian hammer and the ISIS anvil, then the failure of Putin’s strategy will mean victory for ISIS. And that’s a result that everyone else with interests in the outcome of the Syrian civil war will be loathe to accept.

If the choice is between Assad and ISIS, then Obama’s “managed transition” is much more likely to turn into a full on regime restoration. Just what Putin wants.

Art had the voice

The-Concert-in-Central-Park-1982-

I have mostly given up reading Salon. I find its strident, braying liberalism and misleading clickbait headlines as tiresome as the Daily Caller’s chest-beating conservatism and misleading clickbait headlines.

But occasionally Salon surprises me with an actual gem. Like this morning’s long interview with Art Garfunkel, whose soaring angelic voice gave range and depth to the poetry of Paul Simon’s lyrics. As a duo, Simon & Garfunkel created music that allowed them to transcend the folk revival of the 1960s and secured for them a place in the pantheon of musical greats. They were, and remain, peerless artists.

The interview with Garfunkel is full of wonderful moments. It’s not even really an interview. It’s alternately a reverie, a monologue, an inner dialogue externalized. There are occasional questions and lengthy, sprawling, often poetic replies. Like this:

You know, I walked across America so I got a real feel for the geography. Bloomington’s near the middle of the state, near Indianapolis, right? So this is very American. The land is kind of flat with a little bit of curvature—a very sweet curvature to the land, yes? We think of Bloomington as a college town, correct? So fall means back to school in a very rich way. It’s wonderful, that back-to-school feeling of September. It’s a rebirth. The air gets autumn keen and the spirit sharpens up.

As I mentioned, I’ve walked across the U.S. and now Europe, so I know the land. There are many different version of the land: industrial, wasteland, uninspired land. But campuses are a Walt Disney movie. They’re a dream come true. They’re such a cut above almost all of it. Campuses are so pretty, if only the kids realized it. The rest of the earth is something less than that. The skyscrapers downtown, the used-car lots, the hamburger chains, everything that makes up the normal American scene. But not the campuses. They’re pretty. Those trees …

There’s a lot more like that.

Do you know this about musicians? Making music is a place we go to. It’s a real comfort zone. On the Monopoly board, it’s the box marked Go. When you pass go, you get $200. It’s our favorite box. When you go into a song, when you respect your own God-given talent, there’s something automatic about flexing those muscles. You go to that comfort zone and lo and behold, you find other musicians there. That’s the great thing about making music, but it’s also why Paul and Artie can be very squirmy around each other. We’re so damned different, but when the song and the music is happening and Paul is playing guitar—and Paul Simon plays brilliant acoustic guitar—you go to that place comfortably.

I could post any number of Simon & Garfunkel songs, but for me, none displays the crystalline beauty of Art’s voice as well as “For Emily Wherever I May Find Her.”