I was in Benghazi on the morning when Gadaffi troops stormed its streets in 2011. Shells bracketed through the city, almost street by street . The place was in fear, aware that as the cradle of the revolution its residents would not be spared. Mosques boomed “Allahu Akhbar” from their minarets – part warning, part farewell.
All day I stood with civilians staring at the sky, wondering when Nato planes would arrive to save the city.
They arrived day later, pulverising Gaddafi’s war machine as it slept just outside Benghazi.
These past weeks have brought a string of questions about whether the intervention in Libya was the right thing to do. The country is in chaos. British diplomats have followed their American and French counterparts home. Was it worth it, cry the non-interventionists. Aren’t we responsible for creating the vacuum now filled by militias intent on doing their worst?
Let’s leave aside the questions about Gaddafi’s fear-fuelled murder. We’ve been over that ground already.
Instead the situation unfolding in Iraq, where forces of the Islamic State are threatening a genocide of religious minorities, shows us that whatever we might think of the earlier invasion of the country, the mayhem in Libya, or the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, we cannot stand by and let innocent men, women and children die. Just as in Benghazi, so northern Iraq today.
It is all very well for the anti-interventionists to tell us in a decade’s time that we got it all wrong. The simple fact is that today – right now, this minute, as thousands of people huddle on a mountainside wondering what their fate will be – they have no alternative plan.