Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was born in 1943 in the region of Atar. He joined the army as a young man and became aide to the first Mauritanian president, Moktar Daddah. Taya served as commander of the northern region during the Saharan war with the Polisario guerrillas in 1976. After the coup that removed Daddah from power, he became a member of the ruling Military Council and minister of defense under President Mustapha Salek. Taya is a Muslim.