Washington The United States has lost contact with an unmanned aircraft over Afghanistan but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday he had "no reason to believe" the plane was brought down by Taliban fighters.
"The United States has, in fact, lost a ... lost contact, I should say, with an unmanned aerial vehicle," Rumsfeld told reporters after appearing on a Sunday talk show.
"That happens from time to time in terms of the controls. We have no reason to believe it was shot down."
He gave the first confirmation of the loss of such an aircraft, used for years over Iraq and the Balkans for intelligence-gathering.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban claimed Saturday that its fighters shot down an unmanned reconnaissance plane in northern Afghanistan and were trying to determine what country launched it.
The Taliban's official Bakhtar news agency said the aircraft was shot down over the Tashgurgan Pass in Samangan province, which borders Uzbekistan. At the time, Pentagon and CIA officials declined to comment on the report.
The United States acknowledged losing contact with two unmanned "Predator" spy planes during the past month over Iraq, which claimed to have shot both down. Washington did not acknowledge any hits by hostile fire.
Pinpointing the cause of the disappearance of such aircraft is difficult because the United States often cannot reach the wreckage. The Predators are drones that are controlled from some distance away.
Also Sunday, Rumsfeld took issue with comments from the Taliban that they have been unable to locate alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden for the past two days.
"They know where he is," Rumsfeld said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"It is just not believable that the Taliban do not know where the network can be located and found and be turned over and expelled," Rumsfeld said. Similar comments came from Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser.
Rumsfeld also was asked if U.S. military forces were "ready to strike" against bin Laden and his terrorist network for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
"What we've been doing since the day of the attack is getting our forces positioned in various places around the world. This is not an Afghan problem, this is a worldwide problem of terrorist networks," he said.
"We've been getting our capabilities located, positioned, arranged around the world, so that at that point, where the president decides that he has a set of things that he would like done, we will be in a position to carry those things out," he added.