Mauritanian president Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Taya was apparently deposed in a military coup on August 3rd. Taya himself came to power in a 1984 coup. He has ruled as a dictator since, despite some sham elections recently. Early on, Taya was an admirer of Saddam Hussein, and backed Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. But after seeing Iraqi quickly crushed, Taya became an ally of the U.S. Taya went further than that, and established relations with Israel, and cracked down on Islamic conservatives who opposed this move. After September 11, 2001, Taya supported American efforts against Islamic terrorists. In 2003, Taya faced down an unsuccessful military coup, one of many he has defeated over the years.
Mauritania is a large, dry country with only about three million people. Half the population is Arab, and half are black Africans. The country has long been one of those border areas between the Arab and black African worlds. Oil has been found in Mauritania, about $10-15 billion worth (at current prices.) But getting this oil out of the ground won't begin until next year. Currently there are some 500 foreign oil workers in the country, setting up the oil production operation. This oil wealth probably has something to do with the recent coup.
The UN, the African Union and most nations have condemned the coup. President Tava landed in neighboring Niger yesterday, and vows to regain power. This past June, American military personnel trained Mauritanian troops in counter-terrorism techniques. The Mauritanian armed forces are composed of about 15,000 troops, organized into twenty battalions and some smaller units. The army units are spread all over the country, and president Taya, with the help of some foreign nations, may be able to organize a counter-coup. Such an effort will rely more on cash than bullets. Meanwhile, most Mauritanians appeared to favor the removal of Taya and his small group of key supporters.