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Inside The Tiny Police State With Seven Armies

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Tiny police stateForces from America, Japan, France, Germany, Italy—and soon, even China—are crammed into the dirt-poor Djibouti. Good luck asking the locals if they like all the attention.

There’s a smell of sewage out on the beaches outside, juxtaposed with tangerine, sunset views glimmering atop the murky waves. Looking southward across the warm waters of the Gulf of Aden, whale sharks congregate en masse to feed in the fall and winter.

I’m watching through massive glass windows in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel, an oasis for foreign soldiers and military contractors of every stripe. That’s when I notice I’m being eyed by a couple of thugs.

Their casual, ratty street clothes—tattered pants, T-shirts—and a generally unkempt look put them at odds with the military uniforms and business wear that dominates the Sheraton lobby. And they made little effort to hide their purpose: their twisted faces staring intently at me as I sat there writing. I’ve made the mistake of interviewing some human-rights activists. And the thugs are clearly not pleased. They’ll follow me for the last night of my trip.

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