March 25 (UPI) -- Senior U.S. military leaders announced an investigation into reports that up to 200 civilians were killed in recent U.S. coalition air strikes in Mosul.
Officials at U.S. Central Command said they are investigating whether the strike, between March 17 and March 23, resulted in the deaths. If confirmed, it would mark the biggest loss of civilian lives since the air campaign began some 2 1/2 years ago.
Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for Central Command, told The New York Times officials were seeking to determine whether the Mosul explosions were prompted by the coalition strike or were booby traps placed by the Islamic State.
"It's a complicated question, and we've literally had people working nonstop throughout the night to understand it," Thomas said. He added the explosion had "gotten attention at the highest level."
On Friday, the United Nations expressed concern over the civilian casualties. Lise Grande, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said, "Nothing in this conflict is more important than protecting civilians."
"International humanitarian law is clear. Parties to the conflict — all parties – are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of fire-power," she said.