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A technical is a type of improvised fighting vehicle, typically a civilian or military non-combat vehicle, modified to provide an offensive capability similar to a military gun truck. It is usually an open-backed civilian pickup truck or four-wheel drive vehicle mounting a machine gun, light anti-aircraft gun, recoilless rifle, or other support weapon.
The term technical describing such a vehicle originated in Somalia in the early 1990s. Barred from bringing in private security, non-governmental organizations hired local gunmen to protect their personnel, using money defined as "technical assistance grants". Eventually the term broadened to include any vehicle carrying armed men. Technicals have also been referred to as battlewagons, gunwagons, or gunships.
Among irregular armies, often centered around the perceived strength and charisma of warlords, the prestige power of technicals is strong. According to one article, "The Technical is the most significant symbol of power in southern Somalia. It is a small truck with large tripod machine guns mounted on the back. A warlord's power is measured by how many of these vehicles he has." Technicals are not commonly used by well-funded armies that are able to procure purpose-built combat vehicles, because the soft-skinned civilian vehicles that technicals are based on do not offer very good protection to their crew and passengers.
Technicals fill up the niche of traditional light cavalry. Their major asset is speed and mobility and ability to strike from unexpected directions with automatic fire and light troop deployment. In direct engagements, they are no match against heavier vehicles, such as tanks or dedicated IFVs, and usually do suffer major losses against them.
Such improvised fighting vehicles date back to the first use of automobiles, and even earlier, to the horse-drawn tachankas mounting machine guns in eastern Europe and Russia. During World War II, various British and Commonwealth units, including the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the No. 1 Demolition Squadron or 'PPA' (Popski's Private Army), and the Special Air Service (SAS) were noted for their exploits in the deserts of Egypt, Libya and Chad using unarmored motor vehicles, often fitted with machine guns and cannon of various types. During the 1960s, the popular American television series The Rat Patrol echoed the British SAS and LRDG use of the Willys Jeep, this time fitted with a single .50 caliber Browning machine gun. The 1970s show Bearcats! popularized a fictional early 20th century fighting car.
Tactics for employing technicals were pioneered by the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Polisario Front, fighting for independence against Mauritania (1975–79) and Morocco (1975–present) from headquarters in Tindouf, Algeria. Algeria provided arms and Land Rovers to Sahrawi guerrillas, who successfully used them in long-range desert raids against the less agile conventional armies of their opponents, recalling Sahrawi tribal raids (ghazzis) of the pre-colonial period. Polisario later gained access to heavier equipment, but four-wheel drive vehicles remain a staple of their arsenal.
In 1987, Chadian troops equipped with technicals drove the heavily mechanized Libyan army from the Aozou Strip. The vehicles were instrumental in the victory at the Battle of Fada, and were driven over 150 km (93 mi) into Libya to raid military bases. It was discovered that these light vehicles could ride through anti-tank minefields without detonating the mines when driven at speeds over 100 km/h. The vehicles became so famous that, in 1984, Time dubbed the conflict the "Great Toyota War".
Technicals played an important role in the 1990s Somali Civil War and the recent War in Somalia (2006–2009). After the fall of the Siad Barre regime and the collapse of the Somali National Army (SNA), it was rare for any Somali force to field heavy armored fighting vehicles. However, technicals were very common.
Mohamed Farrah Aidid used 30 technicals along with a force of 600 militia to capture Baidoa in September 1995. After he was killed in clan fighting in 1996, his body was carried to his funeral on a Toyota pickup.
Proving their susceptibility to heavy weapons and their value as a military prize, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was able to capture 30 "battlewagons" during the defeat of warlord Abdi Qeybdid's militia at the Second Battle of Mogadishu in 2006. That September, an impressive array of 130 technicals was used to take Kismayo from the forces of the Juba Valley Alliance.
On November 13, 2006, then President of Puntland, General Adde Musa, personally led fifty battlewagons to Galkacyo to confront the Islamists. They were used a month later against the army of the Islamic Courts Union at the Battle of Bandiradley alongside Abdi Qeybdid's reconstituted militia.
However, forced into conventional battles in the War in Somalia of 2006–07, the unarmored technicals of the ICU proved no match for the T-55 tanks, Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships and fighter bombers employed by Ethiopia.
In the War in Afghanistan (2001–present), U.S. Special Operations Forces are known to use technicals for patrol of the rugged terrain and the nature of their clandestine operations. The Taliban also used technicals while they were in power.
Technicals were used by Iraqi military forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Iraqi Republican Guard and Fedayeen emulated tactics of the Somali National Alliance with limited success, but were outmatched by Coalition armour and aviation. In the aftermath of the invasion Technicals saw use by Iraqi insurgents for transporting personnel and quick raids against the Iraqi police forces. The insurgent use of technicals increased after the Iraq Spring Fighting of 2004.
The Coalition also supplied technicals to the Iraqi police. Private military contractors also use technicals and the United States military used modified Toyota Tacoma pickups (purchased from auto showrooms in the USA and modified before delivery) as well.
Janjaweed militias use technicals on their raids against civilian villages in Darfur, Sudan, as do the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel troops in defense of their areas of operations. Light vehicles such as technicals are often thought to be more mobile than armoured vehicles, but on one occasion an African peace-keeper driving a Grizzly AVGP whose guns had jammed, succeeded in catching up with, ramming and rolling over a fleeing Sudanese technical whilst ignoring the technical's apparently ineffectual heavy machine-gun fire.
During the Libyan civil war, both regime loyalist forces as well as the anti-Gaddafi forces used technicals extensively. Given the type of warfare that had been carried out in the conflict—wherein highly mobile groups of soldiers and rebels continued to move to and from on the desert terrain, retreating at a time and then suddenly attacking to regain control of small towns and villages in the Eastern rebel held parts of Libya—had led to the technical becoming a vehicle of choice for both sides.
Technicals had also been widely used by the rebels whilst setting up checkpoints. It also formed a vast percentage of the rebel inventory which was limited to light weapons, light body armor and very few tanks. Some medium flatbed trucks carried the Soviet-made ZPU and ZU-23-2 towed anti-aircraft twin or quad barreled guns, as well as recoilless rifles and S-5 rocket helicopter rocket launcher pods. Some rebels have improvised with captured heavy weaponry, like BMP-1 turrets and helicopter rocket pods, as well as lower-tech methods such as using doorbells to ignite rocket-launched ammunition. Rebel technicals have also frequently employed BM-21 Grad rockets. Rocket tubes were salvaged from damaged regime Ural-375D trucks and mounted on the backs of pickups, with the technicals able to fire anywhere from one to six rockets.
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