The U.N. has stopped short of supporting a request from African leaders for a military intervention in politically unstable Mali until more information is obtained about the operation.

The African Union and the regional bloc Economic Community Of West African States are seeking a U.N. resolution to sanction and support a military operation to restabilize Mali, whose interim government holds a tenuous grip on power following the aftermath of a coup in March amid a rebel insurgency in the country's north. African leaders are concerned that militant Islamist groups like al-Qaida have infiltrated the north and could turn the region into a training ground for terrorists.

The operation, as proposed by the AU and ECOWAS, would be led by West African powers with the assistance of the U.N., France (Mali's former colonizer) and the U.S., but its specific goals have yet to be drawn out.

Given that Mali is being destabilized on two separate fronts, the ECOWAS operation would either have to commit to securing the interim government against a military takeover in the capital Bamako in the south of the country or assist the Malian army in retaking territory in the north claimed by insurgents.

The role of the Malian army has complicated the issue. After ousting the former democratically elected President Amadou Toure, the military junta, facing crippling sanctions from ECOWAS, abdicated power to an interim civilian government with which it maintains a contentious relationship.

Last month, acting President Dioncounda Traore was beaten unconscious by pro-coup demonstrators after the military allowed them to enter his office. He remains in France for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tuareg rebels in the north, who have been engaged in separatist movements for decades, have capitalized on the discord in the south and captured nearly two-thirds of the country's northern territory, establishing the independent Islamic state of Azawad.

ECOWAS has also set a one-year deadline for the interim government to hold open elections by the end of April next year.