WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in Africa warned Monday against any premature military action in Mali, even as he said that al-Qaida linked extremists have strengthened their hold on the northern part of the country.

Army Gen. Carter Ham said that any military intervention now would likely fail and would set the precarious situation there back “even farther than they are today.”

The African Union and United Nations are currently discussing the funding, troops and other assistance necessary to take back northern Mali from the extremists that took control there earlier this year.

“Negotiation is the best way,” Ham told an audience at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. “Military intervention may be a necessary component. But if there is to be military intervention it has to be successful, it cannot be done prematurely.”

Ham’s comments provided greater public detail on the worrisome coordination between al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which bases its operations in Mali, and the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, which is based in Nigeria.