Diplomats say the insurgents would have already overrun the country if French troops and warplanes hadn't intervened, The New York Times reported Friday.
Disgruntled about the inadequacies in the Malian military, government troops in the north rebelled last year. Taking advantage of the unrest, militants moved in and overwhelmed the rebels.
Now, Malian military officials say hundreds of government troops have defected to the militants, some of whom are affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb.
Malian forces, which number about 7,000, have for years been trained by the United States as part of a $500 million program to train and equip Saharan nations to fight militants. To beef up its slim arsenal of helicopters and airplanes, Mali agreed five years ago to a partnership put together by the United States with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.
The Congressional Research Service reported this month that "Given that the Malian Army is internally divided, lacks the capacity to effectively project force, has been implicated in human rights abuses, and is very small, it is uncertain whether Malian forces will be able to effectively follow up on French military strikes by securing and holding territory."
Col. Seydou Sogoba, the commander of Malian troops that pushed the militants out of the town of Diabaly, argues his country can't, and shouldn't, shoulder the battle alone.
"We are a poor country," he said "No African country can face this kind of threat alone. This is an international war that is being fought in Mali. We have done what we can. Now others need to come and help us."