- Associated Press - Monday, January 2, 2012

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Prominent al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban fighters have asked Pakistani militants to set aside their differences and step up support for the battle against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, militant commanders said Monday.

A pair of rare meetings were held in Pakistan’s tribal region in November and December at the request of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership council.

They could indicate the militants are struggling in Afghanistan, or conversely, that they want to make sure they hit U.S. forces hard as the Americans accelerate their withdrawal this year. That could give the Taliban additional leverage in any peace negotiations.

“For God’s sake, forget all your differences and give us fighters to boost the battle against America in Afghanistan,” senior al Qaeda commander Abu Yahya al-Libi told Pakistani fighters at a Dec. 1 meeting, according to a militant who attended.

Pakistani militants have long been split over where they should focus their fighting.

The Pakistani Taliban have concentrated on toppling their own government, although they have sent some fighters to Afghanistan. Other Pakistani groups based in the tribal region almost exclusively have directed their attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella organization set up in 2007 to represent roughly 40 insurgent groups, also has been split by infighting about turf and leadership positions after commanders were killed by the Pakistani military and U.S. drone strikes.

The group has fractured into more than 100 smaller factions, a process that some analysts have suggested would take a toll on militants fighting in Afghanistan by making it increasingly difficult for them to find recruits, as well as restricting territory in Pakistan available to them.

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud attended the two meetings - Nov. 27 in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, and Dec. 11 in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan - Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told the Associated Press.

Other prominent Pakistani militant leaders who attended included Mr. Mehsud’s deputy, Waliur Rehman, and two commanders who have focused on fighting in Afghanistan, Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur, Mr. Ehsan said.

Also there was Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan militant based in North Waziristan who leads one of the most feared groups fighting in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban fighters at the meetings included Zabiullah Mujahid, a well-known spokesman, and Maulvi Sangin, who claims to have custody of U.S. Army Pvt. Bowe R. Bergdahl, captured in Afghanistan in 2009.

The four Pakistani commanders and Mr. Haqqani agreed to form a council to resolve differences, said two Pakistani Taliban commanders who attended the meetings. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.