The United Nations in December approved of an African plan developed by a regional political alliance to send 3,000 troops to Mali to ensure political stability and territorial integrity.
Foreign fighters and Islamic rebels, some of which are aligned with al-Qaida, claimed authority over the northern part of the country last year as the central government in Bamako struggled with a series of political upheavals.
Malian Defense Minister Col. Yamoussa Camara told Radio France International this week that "jihadist elements" had deployed along a de facto north-south line.
African Union Chairman Thomas Boni Yayi was quoted by the BBC as saying NATO should play a role in any military intervention in Mali.
"NATO should play a part and the African force would lead the way as was done by NATO in Afghanistan," he said during a visit to Canada. "This is an international situation."
He maintained, however, that any campaign in Mali should be led by African forces.
The United States and France said they would support a training missing for the African force.