A plan from the AU should be presented to the Security Council by the end of November, and an offensive will likely not get underway until early 2013.
One anonymous African diplomat told the Telegraph that the offensive will probably require a force of about 3,200 soldiers, most of them from West Africa.
“We know that we will need help from our brothers and sisters in the West to pay for it,” said the source.
“All of us have the same goal, which is to stamp out the threat of terrorist outrages emanating from this now ungoverned part of Africa.”
In efforts to include the weak Malian government in these efforts, the AU lifted a suspension against the country, which had been imposed in March when an army coup deposed the civilian government.
That coup helped Islamist extremists overtake northern Mali early this year, and the seized territory has become a base of operations for militant groups linked to al-Qaeda.
The groups are imposing a harsh version of Shariah, or Islamic law, on communities in northern Mali including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. Their presence has effected a humanitarian crisis there, displacing hundreds of thousands of native Malians and hindering the access of aid organizations in a region plagued by food scarcities.
African leaders have been working for months to come up with a plan for joint military action to oust the insurgents. But in order to secure funding they must gain approval from the U.N. Security Council, which has already turned down plans that were not sufficiently specific.
The long-awaited offensive now appears to be on the horizon, with leaders from France Germany and the United Kingdom pledging logistical support. (No Western countries have promised to send troops.)
Meanwhile, Islamists in Mali appear to be fortifying themselves. Residents there have reported that training exercises have increased, rebel vehicles have been painted over with camouflage patterns, and trucks full of militants have begun rolling in from the Sahel, a tract of semi-arid land just south of the Sahara Desert.
AU Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is in communication with all parties involved to solidify plans for the upcoming offensive.
“We are working… to finalize the joint planning for the early deployment of an African-led international military force to help Mali recover the occupied territories in the North,” she said, according to Reuters.
“At the same time, we will leave the door of dialogue open to those Malian rebel groups willing to negotiate,” she added.