DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Prominent al-Qaida and Afghan Taliban fighters asked Pakistani militants in a pair of rare meetings to set aside their differences and step up support for the battle against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, militant commanders said Monday.
The 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-Qaida commander Abu Yahya al-Libi told Pakistani fighters at a meeting on Dec. 11, 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 have almost exclusively directed their attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella organization set up in 2007 to represent roughly 40 insurgent groups, has also been split by infighting over 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 on 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 Mehsud's deputy, Waliur Rehman, and two commanders who have focused on fighting in Afghanistan, Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur, 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 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.
A pamphlet handed out in North Waziristan over the past two days announced the formation of the five-member committee, saying it was established in consultation with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name given to the country by the Taliban. It called on Pakistani militants to coordinate with each other and "avoid unwarranted killings and kidnappings for ransom."
"If any holy warrior is found involved in an unjustified murder or crime, he will be answerable to the committee and could face Islamic punishment," said the pamphlet, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.
Al-Libi, the al-Qaida commander, asked the Pakistani militants to provide additional fighters to the Afghan Taliban in March, when the snow melts from the passes connecting Pakistan and Afghanistan and the spring fighting season begins.
Ehsan, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said the militants agreed, but that did not mean the group would end its fight against the Pakistani government.
"We will continue our jihad against Pakistani security forces," Ehsan pledged.
Abbot reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.