The United States says it has sent a team to assess humanitarian needs in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, where government troops have been battling rebels.

A statement from the U.S. embassy Thursday says the technical experts will examine health, nutrition, food security, water and sanitation conditions in the eastern region. It said the team will provide an impartial evaluation of the situation and facilitate appropriate responses.

The United States increased its aid to Ogaden in November, to about $45 million, because of concerns that many people in the region do not have access to basic necessities.

Ethiopia expelled humanitarian groups from the region in July, shortly after beginning a major crackdown on the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

The government recently allowed some groups to return.

Ogaden and the ONLF drew renewed international attention in April when a raid on a Chinese-run oil exploration field killed nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopians.

Since then, both the government and the ONLF have claimed to kill large numbers of each others' soldiers. The reports cannot be confirmed, as large parts of the region are off limits to journalists and aid workers.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.