The Obama administration, France and neighboring African countries are all weighing what will be the most effective policies to halt the rapid success of Islamic extremists in Mali. The 15-nation West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has discussed sending 3,000 troops to help oust the Islamist militants from the north.
Many, though, question how Mali's weak military could take the lead on such an intervention.
"All the military force in the world cannot put Mali back together and sustain it unless there is a legitimate political process that the majority of Malians will accept," said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Analysts believe ECOWAS would need to send more soldiers to take and hold the France-sized area of desert now controlled by the militants.
"There's been a serious mismatch between the type of mission that is talked about and the type of resources that anyone is willing to cough up in support of that mission," noted Pham.
The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a plan to back an African-led military force to help the Malian army oust Islamic militants. But the plan still faces delays: The French-backed resolution gives Mali, the West Africans and the African Union 45 days to develop plans to recover the occupied territory.
Representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS are to consider the situation on Oct. 19 in a meeting in Mali's capital, Bamako. The head of the Germany-based U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham, said recently that "a military component" would be a part of an overall solution in northern Mali, but he ruled out an overt U.S. military presence.
While diplomats from other countries discuss options, no action on the ground to retake the north appears imminent.
"We're in this period of stagnation, effectively a stalemate in the north," said Gregory Mann, a history professor at Columbia University who specializes in Mali. "Some form of outside intervention is probably both undesirable, inevitable and necessary."