The African Union (AU) will send a mission to northern Mali in upcoming weeks to look into setting up a counter-terrorism force to support UN peacekeepers, sources told Reuters.
Alongside officials of the UN force in Mali, MINUSMA, the Mali government has called for increased military support in fighting against Al Qaeda-linked militant groups, which have become an increased threat in the region.
French forces had cleared northern Malian cities from the militants in 2013, but they have regrouped.
Last November, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group attacked a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako, killing 20 people.
Critics say, MINUSMA, with approximately 10,000 military personnel, had been unsuccessful in bringing peace to the region, as it lacked an aggressive counter-terrorism mandate.
In addition, at least 20 Malian and UN troops from African countries have been killed this year, according to estimates by Reuters.
Last week, during a Security Council visit to Mali, the UN discussed a possible expansion of its forces; however, some members including France said it was an already sufficient robust, but they additional resources for the force.
The AU’s decision could be an alternative way to secure the region, the sources said.
"There is an [AU] mission to assess the security threats in northern Mali in the next few weeks," said one security source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"This will allow the development of a plan for an international force in the fight against terrorism," he added, saying the AU seeks to be backed by UN and Malian forces.
However, the number of troops to be deployed along with the financing have yet to be determined, sources said.
AU officials at the continental body's headquarters in Addis Ababa could not be reached for comment, as a spokesman for the Malian defence ministry declined to comment.