The military chiefs of 15 West Africa nations have begun deliberations to "finalize a roadmap" for an armed intervention in Mali, whose northern half is occupied by al-Qaida-linked Islamists.

interim President Dioncounda Traore on Sept. 1 asked the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, for air support to destroy rebel bases and for five battalions to help reconquer northern towns. The meeting's agenda includes a review of that request and a presentation of a deployment plan.

In opening remarks, Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman, ECOWAS political commissioner, said she is optimistic officials can overcome "disagreements" concerning the proposed first phase of the mission, which involves stabilizing southern Mali, where a coup occurred in March. The coup leader previously refused to accept a foreign force.