The Obama administration is considering sending military intelligence assets to help the French fight al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali.
For several days now, French and Malian forces have engaged rebel fighters trying to take over the North African country.
The Pentagon is concerned Islamic militants are making significant advances. The United States is already providing surveillance and other intelligence help to France.
However, officials say that any assistance would not include sending American combat forces to Mali.
At the same time, the administration is trying to determine how far it can go in aiding the French without violating U.S. law or undermining policy objectives. Direct military aid to Mali is forbidden under U.S. law because the current government seized power in a coup.
"Our goal is to do what we can," Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said. "The fundamental objective is to ensure that AQIM - al Qaeda - never establishes a base of operations in Mali or anywhere else."