Pentagon Sends Assessment Team to Bolivia

The Pentagon dispatched an assessment team to Bolivia (search) on Friday to determine whether the U.S. Embassy needs more protection, or should be evacuated, because of anti-government riots ranging through the La Paz, the capital.

The team of fewer than six military experts was sent as an ally of Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (search) said the president would resign. Bolivia has been wracked by weeks of protest marches and bloody street riots triggered by a government plan to export natural gas.

The American military planners will assess the situation on La Paz's streets and recommend possible changes to the embassy's evacuation and protection plans, said Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command (search).

Southern Command, responsible for U.S. troops in Central and South America, decided to send the team despite the lack of a request from either the State Department or the Bolivian government, Costello said.

"It's not something we've been directed to do," Costello said Friday. "The commanders, as they monitored developments, thought it was a prudent thing to do to look at the situation."

The United States normally has fewer than 30 military personnel in Bolivia, Costello said.

Costello said the team would take commercial flights into La Paz, although military planes have had to airlift thousands of stranded foreigners from there.